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Old 12-20-2003, 03:07 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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For Wiley

The Man Who Used to Fish

When younger, he went fishing every day.
His dinner over, he would pack his rod
and head down to the bank and there heíd flay
the water to a foam; and he would spray
the Nore from bank to bank with casts of flies.*
When hope took luck in hand he caught a prize,
and then, as darkness fell, back home he trod
certain in his heart there was a God.

In time, he was a fisherman of skill,
casting thirty yards and more with ease
to drop a floating fly on to a rill.
If there were fish, he seldom failed to fill
his creel and every season took a quota
of salmon from the Moy. In Minnesota
he even showed the Yanks his expertise.
Faith was with old women on their knees.

Now Time, the whelp of Death, has found his scent;
he hasnít dapped the may or tied a fly
in years nor stalked a bank as nighttime lent
its cover to his singular intent.
And though the hour has come for giving thanks
for time spent fishing on so many banks,
heĎs lost the way and doesnít want to try
and doubts that even God can fathom why.

Jim Hayes



Casts of flies; three or more wet flies
tied to a leader via droppers,
a beginnerís tactic.




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  #2  
Old 12-20-2003, 10:15 AM
Rhina P. Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat is offline
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This poem achieves the nearly-impossible: it draws a non-fishing, non-hunting, total ignoramus where sports are concerned into the life of this "man who used to fish." What the poet has done is demonstrate once again the power of metaphor well used to transcend individual interests and circumstances, much as Tim Murphy's hunting-dog poems draw me into concerns that are not normally part of my life. By the end of stanza one, I knew the poet had something larger in mind that fishing, and suspected that I had already been hooked.

The theme of aging, what age takes away, and the sorrow of noting that even the desire for it eventually goes, is so smoothly braided into this simple narrative that we become "the man," understand his early joy, his pride (which borders on arrogance in stanza 2), and finally his bewildered realization that something has passed from his life and he can't--and doesn't even want to--put it back. Layers of meaning here, and in each eighth line the introduction of a religious motif that becomes more complex in each stanza. What is meant by "Faith was with old women on their knees"? Is the poet suggesting that, in his overconfidence, the great fisherman (read great poet, great surgeon... you name it) thought faith was irrelevant, fit for old ladies but not for him? After all, "he never had much bother" accomplishing his own miracles. Or am I misreading this?

In stanza 3, the final line becomes even more problematic: does the fisherman doubt, now that he's "lost his way," that even God can understand why that's happened, why he's lost his skill and even his desire to fish? Now, at this stage in his life, when he ought to be giving thanks for the "fishing" he was permitted to do "on so many banks," to have lost it all so completely, and be unsure that even God understands it! The whole poem, of course, gains in depth and weight with the reader's knowledge that the New Testament apostles--hence the clergy--are referred to as "fishermen for souls."

Wonderful poem, sad and persuasive, with a prayer somewhere at the core of it, and full of unresolved questions. The language of that third stanza, in particular, is to die for.








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Old 12-20-2003, 10:32 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I can little to Rhina's splendid analysis. Except to note that knowing the high moral seriousness, the stature, the infirmity of the dedicatee, Wiley Clements (Golias), adds to the already intensely elegiac tone. This has got to be Hayes' best poem.
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Old 12-20-2003, 10:37 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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I agree with all that Rhina and Tim have said. Jim's best, which is saying a lot.

Not that the rest of the poem is chopped liver, but I love the music and the emotion of:

And though the hour has come for giving thanks
for time spent fishing on so many banks

I think "so many" is a master stroke. (I hear a wonderful double iamb in "...FISHing on SO MANy BANKS", though it can be said "...FISHing ON so MANy..." as well, and in a way I can hear both at once and the beat seems to float and hover about in the vicinity).




[This message has been edited by Roger Slater (edited December 20, 2003).]
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Old 12-20-2003, 08:11 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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I'm so out of my depth here.

I found Rhina's comments as fascinating as the poem, and I can only imagine what it must be like to be such an accomplished poet and such an intelligent reader.

I just want to say I enjoyed the poem very much, particularly things like:

"...when hope took luck in hand..."

and

"He never had much bother trying to fill
his creel and every season took a quota
of salmon from the Moy."
(and I loved the quota/Minnesota rhyme.)

Nope, no chopped liver here.

Bill
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  #6  
Old 12-21-2003, 02:23 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Beautiful and moving. I am glad to get a chance to comment on this, though it is already in such good shape that the only thing I can think of to change might be to make "on to" in S2 L3 "onto." I have no interest in fishing myself, but think that anything that one is passionate about can become a metaphor for what any person is passionate about.

Susan
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Old 12-21-2003, 03:18 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
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Jim
Sad and true. The gradual loss of skill and desire. It happens to us all.
This is a fine poem with deep resonance and it is about a great deal more than fishing.

Janet
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Old 12-21-2003, 03:36 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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The frames are a nice touch, and Rhina's critique is right on:

"Wonderful poem, sad and persuasive, with a prayer somewhere at the core of it, and full of unresolved questions. The language of that third stanza, in particular, is to die for," indeed.

I find the final line is not so much an unresolved question as a coming to terms with death. That he "doesn't want to try" to find the way is an indication of acceptance. What is there to find, after all, at the brink of death? Only peace.

Everyone will have a different answer to this, but there's an acceptance of nothingness in the final line, and nothingness meets with some people's concept of death. We spend all our lives searching for one thing or another; one would hope we could dispense with the search by the time death comes calling.

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Old 12-21-2003, 03:38 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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PS Jim, an meaningful and musical tribute to dear Wiley!

Terese
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  #10  
Old 12-22-2003, 06:05 AM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
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Dear Rhina, I am really thankful to you for the uncanny accuracy of your interpretation, it is always gratifying even if slightly unnerving to a poet when his work is more lucidly explained than he could have done himself.

Thanks greatly Tim, and also, Roger, Willam, Terese, Janet and Susan for your generosity of spirit in finding something to like herein.

Jim

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