Thursday Mar 30

HopenthalerYear5 The Poetry of Fishing

And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. Ezekiel 47:9-10.

Well, the days went along, and the river went down between its banks again; and about the first thing we done was to bait one of the big hooks with a skinned rabbit and set it and catch a catfish that was as big as a man, being six foot two inches long, and weighed over two hundred pounds. We couldn't handle him, of course; he would a flung us into Illinois. We just set there and watched him rip and tear around till he drownded. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.

Perhaps because the first American fly-casting tournament was held in Utica, NY on June 18, 1861, the day has come to be known as National Go Fishing Day. Many poets, myself included, spent much of their childhood at the pond or stream or river bank, casting for something that might or might not be there, might or might not be tempted by the bait being offered. When luck, preparation and skill meshed and a fish was hooked, these future poets felt the tug and struggle pulsing from the fish, through the line, into their fingers.

This experience, of course, is similar to that of fishing for a poem, and so fishing, as a poetic/literary metaphor, is as universal and translatable as any. It is central to the New Testament and writings as diverse as Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, and Jaws. Even Shakespeare. Well, not the playwright; other than a few fishing lines cast here and there (my favorite is from Hamlet: “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”), the Bard had less to say about fishing than many. However, according to Wikipedia, it was William Shakespeare, Jr. who invented the level-winding fishing reel and also founded Shakespeare Fishing Tackle in 1897. I have no information on whether or not they are related.    

Here are just a handful of the wonderful fishing poems that have been written so far. I look forward to those that have yet to be reeled in. And, hey, take a kid fishing; there’s nothing better.

The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop

Fishing” by A.E. Stallings

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” by Billy Collins

The Great Black Heron” by Denise Levertov

Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey

Elegy” by Natasha Trethewey

Bobber” by Raymond Carver