The Drunken Fisherman
by ROBERT LOWELL (1917-1977)
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.
Robert Lowell was an American poet noted for his complex, oratorical poetry, and turbulent life. He was called the father of the confessional poets, a term used to describe, among others, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman. Lowell’s work grew from his own unhappiness and the social, political, and ideological movements in the U.S. during the Post World War II decades. A heavy drinker, the manic-depressive Lowell spent periods in mental hospitals in the latter part of his life.