W.B. Yeats’ “The Fisherman”

I was reading A.A. Luce’s Fishing and Thinking (19590 today. Luce considered himself a great empiricist, inspired by philosopher George Berkeley. It stuck me as odd, then, that Luce was a fan of W.B. Yeats’ poetry. Yeats had a rather fanciful imagination.

Luce reflects upon the meaning of Yeats’ poem, “The Fisherman,” and wonders why this boyhood acquaintance and later colleague wrote about a fly fisher, instead of some other figure. Ultimately, he decides it is because angling “takes us out of ourselves, and confronts us with the comforting blank wall of something not ourselves, to which our sensing, imagining, thinking and action must conform” (Fishing and Thinking, 82).

Luce continues:

The fresh air, the open spaces, the physical exercise, the nature of the occupation and the objectivity of the chase combine to make angling a sedative and a general tonic for the occupational dis-ease of the man of letters; and if W.B. Yeats had found it so, as seems probable, it is no wonder that in later life he turned back nostalgically to the sport of his young and active days, and idealized it. (Fishing and Thinking, 83)

I do not agree with Luce about many things — I suppose I am more of a romantic than an empiricist — but I do share his admiration of Yeats and his belief that fly fishing calms our souls by connecting us with what something real, that is beyond ourselves.

“The Fisherman,” by W.B. Yeats, first published in Poetry, 1916.

Although I can see him still—

The freckled man who goes

To a gray place on a hill

In gray Connemara clothes

At dawn to cast his flies—

It’s long since I began

To call up to the eyes

This wise and simple man.

All day I’d looked in the face

What I had hoped it would be

To write for my own race

And the reality:

The living men that I hate,

The dead man that I loved,

The craven man in his seat,

The insolent unreproved—

And no knave brought to book

Who has won a drunken cheer—

The witty man and his joke

Aimed at the commonest ear,

The clever man who cries

The catch cries of the clown,

The beating down of the wise

And great Art beaten down.

Maybe a twelve-month since

Suddenly I began,

In scorn of this audience,

Imagining a man,

And his sun-freckled face

And gray Connemara cloth,

Climbing up to a place

Where stone is dark with froth,

And the down turn of his wrist

When the flies drop in the stream—

A man who does not exist,

A man who is but a dream;

And cried, “Before I am old

I shall have written him one

Poem maybe as cold

And passionate as the dawn.

3 Responses to “W.B. Yeats’ “The Fisherman””

  1. cofisher49 Says:

    That is a great piece by Yeats. Thanks!


  2. Kenov Says:

    You’re very welcome, and I agree. I feel foolish for not having paid attention to it before.


  3. Taken by Fairies and Fishing | The Literary Fly Fisher Says:

    […] in 1911. He was undoubtedly influenced by the romanticism that also influenced mentor and poet William Butler Yeats and so many other Irish and other Northern European intellectuals at the time.  This romanticism is […]


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