5 Collections to Read After You Watch the Live Action The Little Mermaid
Viewers have been eagerly awaiting Lin Manuel Miranda’s live action The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, for more than a year. Now, it’s here, driving both large audiences and significant dialogue. The re-envisioned story sparked important conversations about representation—with a viral TikTok trend showing young Black girls watching the trailer in awe—and consent.
Just as The Little Mermaid has a long cinematic history, with the original animated classic hitting theaters in 1989, mermaids are also part of an important, prevailing literary legacy. Mermaids can be traced back to the most ancient mythology, and have appeared as sensual, beautiful figures in Sappho’s poetry and as powerful and dangerous in Homer’s epics. Like modern-day Ariel, they’ve been driving forces in discussions of gender, sexuality, agency, and more. These five poetry collections will continue your shimmering dive into the sea.
the mermaid’s voice returns in this one by Amanda Lovelace
In one of the opening poems of Amanda Lovelace’s the mermaid’s voice returns in this one—the third release in her bestselling “women are some kind of magic” series—Lovelace defines the story of the mermaid as “the story / of how / they tried / to quiet her / & how her screams / dismantled / the moon.” The collection follows in this same fierce and evocative vein, with Lovelace using the universal, natural imagery of both the sea and the stars to chronicle the mermaid’s story as one of strength, vulnerability, and liberation. Despite the mermaid’s fantastical nature, women will see themselves reflected in this feminist fairytale.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published Ariel is perhaps her most renowned work. In a review of the celebrated collection, poet Robert Lowell noted, “In these poems, Sylvia Plath becomes herself.” Though Ariel doesn’t refer to the famed mermaid in this collection—but instead a real-life horse that Plath owned and rode regularly—the symbol takes on multi-faceted meanings throughout these poems, including the name’s Hebrew meaning of “Lion of God.” In the titular poem, the speaker undergoes a journey from status to galloping, uninhabited wildness, exploring themes like womanhood, nature, and freedom that can also be seen in The Little Mermaid.
The Waste Land and Other Writings by T.S. Eliot
Long before the movie release of The Little Mermaid, T.S. Eliot included allusions to mermaids in some of his most famous poems. In his turbulent epic “The Waste Land,” Eliot hauntingly describes a stormy, unrelenting sea to help illustrate despair, loss, and judgment. Chronicling the fate of the speaker, Eliot writes, “A current under the sea / Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell / He passed the stages of his age and youth / Entering the whirlpool.” In another poem included in this anthology, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot continually uses mermaids as a symbol of escapism, youth, and mortality. “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each / …I have seen them riding seaward on the waves / Combing the white hair of the waves blown back / When the wind blows the water white and black,” he writes.
Wake, Siren by Nina MacLaughlin
From the booming, overprotective threats of King Triton to the wistful look at men’s rowdiness and revelry on their ships, The Little Mermaid provides a glimpse of how stories about the sea often center around the adventures and perils of men. However, it quickly contrasts this by turning to Ariel’s longing and eventual transformation. In Wake, Siren, the women of Ovid’s Metamorphoses challenge common narratives and center themselves in their own stories. “I am the home of this story,” they assert in the collection. “After thousands of years of other people’s tellings, of all these different bridges, of words gotten wrong, I’ll tell it myself.”
Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
The Little Mermaid showcases a compelling contrast in the worlds above and below the ocean. Prince Eric and the other humans on land would likely never imagine the sea witches, collections of shipwrecked human objects, and singing crabs that live below. In the ecopoetic collection Oceanic, which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award in poetry, Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes with this same whimsy and enchantment, as well as with equal parts loss and grief. Oceanic is a bold investigation of worlds humans are unaware of and can’t claim, evoking caves glowing with “colors humans have not yet named” and “circling sea stars” that humans don’t even notice. The collection is awash with both new, wondrous discoveries and an urgent call to protect them.