Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2015 Poetry Challenge

There are quite a few famous poems about fish and fishing. One of the most famous is a poem by John Wolcot, who wrote under the pen name "Peter Pindar." Wolcot was born in 1738 and died in 1819. His name is not as well-known now as it once was, in part because much of his poetry was about current events and about the celebrities of his day. His poem about fishing, however, has stood the test of time.

To A Fish of the Brook

Why fliest thou away with fear?
Trust me there's naught of danger near,
     I have no wicked hook
All covered with a snaring bait,
Alas, to tempt thee to thy fate,
     And drag thee from the brook.

O harmless tenant of the flood,
I do not wish to spill thy blood,
     For nature unto thee,
Perchance hath given a tender wife,
And children dear, to charm thy life,
     As she hath done for me.

Enjoy thy stream, O harmless fish;
And when an angler for his dish,
     Through gluttony's vile sin,
Attempts, a wretch, to pull thee out,
God give thee strength, O gentle trout,
     To pull the rascal in!

~ John Wolcot (Peter Pindar)

The poem is rhymed and metered. Wolot doesn’t tell us what kind of fish the poem is addressed to until the next to last line when he needs the word “trout” to rhyme with “out.” Note how he seeks to create a sense of identification with the fish.

Wolcot was known for his wit and satire, so I suspect that he intended this poem to be humorous. The message has been taken more seriously by some contemporary animal rights groups, however.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish,” which you can read at, is an entirely different kind of poem. It isn’t reproduced here, because it is not yet in the public domain.

Bishop’s poem is well-crafted free verse. She uses a number of poetic devices, including similes, vivid imagery, and alliteration. There are two very short sentences near the beginning of the poem. After that most of the poem, though consisting of short lines, is made up of long, run-on sentences. This structure, it seems to me, gives more “punch” to the six word concluding sentence.

Like Wolcot, Bishop creates in the reader a sense of identification with and sympathy for the fish, but she does it in a very different way than he did. Her detailed descriptions of the fish and the hooks in its lip are important in that regard, as is the idea of looking into the eyes of the fish. The fish and its plight may be metaphoric, suggesting the struggles which people go through in life.

While the fish in Bishop’s poem is old, ugly and described in detail, the trout William Butler Yeats wrote about was “silver.” That one word is the only description given to the fish caught by the narrator. But what a fish! Yeats made good use of his imagination in this poem:

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

 ~ William Butler Yeats

This is, of course, another rhymed and metered poem. Is it a dream poem? Aengus is the name of a got in Irish mythology, but the story told by this haunting poem doesn’t retell any of the traditional stories. Much ink has used in trying to explain all the symbolism of the poem. Do you think the main theme of the poem is obsessive or unrequited love? Human longing for what is unattainable? Essentially every object in the poem, from the moths to the “silver apples of the moon” and “golden apples of the sun” have been interpreted metaphorically.

March Poetry Challenge:

The poetry challenge for March is to write a poem about fish or fishing. Maybe you went fishing with your father or grandfather, or took your child fishing. Perhaps you love a good fish fry, or maybe you can’t stand the taste or texture of tuna.

Your submission can be a narrative poem, such as Bishop’s poem, about a realistic fish. It can be a magical fish such as the silver fish in Yeats’ poem. Or the fish or fishes or fishing can be metaphoric. Be sure your poem is about fishing or about a fish. A starfish is not a fish, despite its name (some scientists are trying to persuade us to call them sea stars), nor are sand dollars. Octopi are not fish, nor are whales.

Submit only one poem. The deadline is March 15. Poems submitted after the March 15 deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray far from “family-friendly” language.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a print periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem, if you are a winner this month.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique; I sometimes do it myself. However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 30 lines are generally preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog format and have to be split, so you might be wise to use shorter lines.

Some Other Interesting Poems about Fish or Fishing:

David Bond, “Fishing With the Hair Of The Dead,” in American Chicken (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2007), pp. 13-17.

“Billy Collins, “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July,” in Picnic, Lightening (Pittsburg: Pittsburgh University Press, 1998), p. 7-8.

James Merrill, “The Parrot Fish,” in James Merrill, Selected Poems 1946-1985 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 81.

Pablo Neuruda, “El Pescador”/”The Fisherman,” in Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: A Selection (Poems: 1925-1970) A Bilingual Edition Edited and Translated from the Spanish by Ben Belitt (New York: Grove Press, 1974), pp. 304-305.

Mary Oliver, “Gannets,” “Dogfish,” and “The Fish,” in New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), pp. 28-29, 103-105, 165. [Note: Gannet’s are birds—but they eat fish, so fish are important to the poem.]

Henriëtte Roland-Holst, “Mother of Fishermen,” in The Penguin Book of Women Poets, edited by Carol Cosman, Joan Keefeand and Kathleen Weaver (Middlesex, England and New York: Penguin Books, 1978), p. 222.

Sandy Stark, “Learning to Fish” in Counting on Birds by Sandy Stark (Fireweed Press, 2010) ; also at

For more fish poems on line, see This collection will not only take you fishing, it will also take you to a fish market.

© Wilda Morris