Robert Lowell

(1917 - 1977 / Boston / United States)

The Drunken Fisherman - Poem by Robert Lowell

Wallowing in this bloody sty,
I cast for fish that pleased my eye
(Truly Jehovah's bow suspends
No pots of gold to weight its ends);
Only the blood-mouthed rainbow trout
Rose to my bait. They flopped about
My canvas creel until the moth
Corrupted its unstable cloth.

A calendar to tell the day;
A handkerchief to wave away
The gnats; a couch unstuffed with storm
Pouching a bottle in one arm;
A whiskey bottle full of worms;
And bedroom slacks: are these fit terms
To mete the worm whose molten rage
Boils in the belly of old age?

Once fishing was a rabbit's foot--
O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot,
Let suns stay in or suns step out:
Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale's spout--
The fisher's fluent and obscene
Catches kept his conscience clean.
Children, the raging memory drools
Over the glory of past pools.

Now the hot river, ebbing, hauls
Its bloody waters into holes;
A grain of sand inside my shoe
Mimics the moon that might undo
Man and Creation too; remorse,
Stinking, has puddled up its source;
Here tantrums thrash to a whale's rage.
This is the pot-hole of old age.

Is there no way to cast my hook
Out of this dynamited brook?
The Fisher's sons must cast about
When shallow waters peter out.
I will catch Christ with a greased worm,
And when the Prince of Darkness stalks
My bloodstream to its Stygian term . . .
On water the Man-Fisher walks.

Comments about The Drunken Fisherman by Robert Lowell

  • (5/11/2016 6:43:00 AM)

    Lowell is a master of rhythm in a poem that is very sad and so moving.
    It is the sheer artistry of the word music that enchants.
    Tom Billsborough
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  • (5/6/2016 8:56:00 PM)

    In my opinion, this poem is about the bitterness and misery that comes with aging. The speaker reminisces about their youth (the glory of past pools) while resenting the world he lives in now. The Stygian term alludes to the river of Styx, aka Hades, so the speaker is expecting to die soon. But, I think there's still hope for the speaker as he tries to catch Christ with a greased worm, which probably means he's seeking salvation. Jesus is known as the 'fisherman of men' so the last line referencing the Man-Fisher is somewhat ironic because the drunken fisherman isn't the real one fishing. In essence, the speaker is the true 'fish' waiting to be caught by God before he passes away. (Report) Reply

  • Brian Jani (5/17/2014 3:02:00 PM)

    Nice and a bit funny lol (Report) Reply

  • (4/10/2008 6:47:00 PM)

    What is this poem ABOUT? (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: fishing, rainbow, fish, wind, memory, river, rose, children, moon, water, dance, child, son

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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