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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

The Ballad of the Oysterman

IT was a tall young oysterman lived by the riverside,

His shop was just upon the bank, his boat was on the tide;

The daughter of a fisherman, that was so straight and slim,

Lived over on the other bank, right opposite to him.

It was the pensive oysterman that saw a lovely maid,

Upon a moonlight evening, a-sitting in the shade;

He saw her wave a handkerchief, as much as if to say,

“I’m wide awake, young oysterman, and all the folks away.”

Then up arose the oysterman, and to himself said he,

“I guess I’ll leave the skiff at home, for fear that folks should see;

I read it in the story-book, that, for to kiss his dear,

Leander swam the Hellespont, and I will swim this here.”

And he has leaped into the waves, and crossed the shining stream,

And he has clambered up the bank, all in the moonlight gleam;

Oh, there are kisses sweet as dew, and words as soft as rain—

But they have heard her father’s step, and in he leaps again!

Out spoke the ancient fisherman: “Oh, what was that, my daughter?”

“’Twas nothing but a pebble, sir, I threw into the water.”

“And what is that, pray tell me, love, that paddles off so fast?”

“It’s nothing but a porpoise, sir, that’s been a-swimming past.”

Out spoke the ancient fisherman: “Now, bring me my harpoon!

I’ll get into my fishing-boat, and fix the fellow soon.”

Down fell that pretty innocent, as falls a snow-white lamb;

Her hair drooped round her pallid cheeks, like seaweed on a clam.

Alas! for those two loving ones! she waked not from her swound,

And he was taken with the cramp, and in the waves was drowned;

But Fate has metamorphosed them, in pity of their woe,

And now they keep an oyster shop for mermaids down below.