The Fenman


Posted: 15 September 1999

"The Fenman" was a poem by Sax Rohmer which may or may not have been published.   No publication information has yet been discovered, but the original format as well as content(see below) strongly suggest that it was written as a song lyric, and it may well have been published, as were many other songs by Rohmer, in one of the newspapers that used music-hall song lyrics as fillers.

In England, fenland is low lying ground composed primarily of marshes or bogs near the sea. The term fenman describes one who lives in the fens which were often quite isolated with few dwellings. Rohmer used an excerpt from "The Fenman"  in "Cragmire Tower," Chapter XXI  of  The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu. The poem is not attributed to any author and the reader is left to guess whether the poem exists in its entirety or who the author might be. The excerpt does, however, serve to help Petrie, as narrator, create the atmosphere for the scene.

But not a sound broke the stillness save a remote murmuring, until a solitary sea gull rose in the air and circled directly over the tower, uttering its mournful and unmusical cry. Automatically to my mind sprang the lines of the poem:

Far from all brother-men, in the weird of the fen,
With God's creatures I bide, 'mid the birds that I ken;
Where the winds ever dree, where the hymn of the sea
Brings a message of peace from the ocean to me.

Not a soul was visible about the premises; there was no sound of human activity and no dog barked. Nayland Smith drew a long breath, glanced back along the way we had come, then went on, following the wall, I beside him, until we came to the gate. It was unfastened, and we walked up the stone path through a wilderness of weeds. Four windows of the house were visible, two on the ground floor and two above. Those on the ground floor were heavily boarded up, those above, though glazed, boasted neither blinds nor curtains. Cragmire Tower showed not the slightest evidence of tenancy.

Here is the full text of "The Fenman" as transcribed from the author's own files by Cay Van Ash:

The Fenman
(A Ballad of the Lowlands)

               Far from all other men,
               In the weird of the fen,
               With God's creatures I bide,
               'Mid the birds that I ken;
               Where the winds seem to dree;
               Where the hymn of the sea
               Brings its message of peace
               From the ocean to me.
    
               The fenman am I;
               Ev'ry bird that doth fly
               I can call from afar---
               For they flock to my cry.
               With sweet reeds for my bed,
               'Neath God's roof do I lie.
               In the Fenland I live;
               'Mid the fens shall I die.
    
               There are shades in the fen---
               Ghosts of women and men
               Who have sinned and have died,
               But are living again.
               O'er the waters they tread
               With their lanterns of dread;
               And they peer in the pools---
               In the pools of the dead!
    
               But I do not fear them,
               Nor cravenly fly.
               They are waiting, and watching---
               And waiting am I,
               Where the shadows abide,
               In the weird of the Fen,
               Till the King shall enjoy
                    His own again!
    
               The fenman am I;
               Ev'ry bird that doth fly
               I can call from afar---
               For they flock to my cry.
               With sweet reeds for my bed,
               'Neath God's roof do I lie.
               In the Fenland I live . . .
                    . . . 'Mid the Fens---I must die!

Copyright by the Estate of Sax Rohmer

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