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Misunderstood?

Today I got to thinking about mermaids. I don’t know why they should cross my mind again except that I was tired and I wanted to paint something. I had the gold watercolor ground already prepared, and I remembered one of my favorite German poems. So yes, I got to thinking about mermaids and it occurred to me for the very first time that mermaids are perhaps misunderstood. I had to revisit the poem I like. In it a mermaid’s song causes a sailor to lose control of his boat, crash into a cliff, and die. I remember reading this as a child and thinking the mermaid was pure evil. But I know a lot more about men and women now, and I can read the poem differently. I can read it as a manifestation of fear: a man’s fear of how a woman’s charms can lead him astray, his fear of passion, of seduction, of the ever mysterious and ever alluring divine feminine. A man’s fear of a creature he does not understand but feels attracted to. His fear of this attraction, of the danger of losing himself to it, of giving up control, of being engulfed and rendered powerless. Men are full of such fears. I’ve met men who would rather battle ferocious beasts and armed wrongdoers than allow themselves to own their feelings for a woman, men who are suspicious that a woman can steal their soul. No wonder the mermaid in the poem is sad. Perhaps she’s just a girl looking for love, a girl who, for all her beauty, viewed through her lover’s fearful eyes, appears as half temptress half beast, her scales glimmering in the moonlight, her song leading to certain death.