Kurt Brown’s Fisherman narrates the story of a man who devotes the whole of his life trying to locate a grand and bring to realization one amongst his many intrinsic endeavors. The fisherman deeply believes that a breakthrough in accomplishing these hidden aspirations will transcend any other thing he has ever achieved before but his hesitance and lack of personal confidence has reduced the dreams into silhouettes that are hard to define. The man has trained himself to coexist in the frustration caused by his servitude to other individuals by helping them realize their dreams while his are unattended (Brown 23). Interestingly though, he keeps the hope as evidenced by his daily trip to the ocean and believing that one day he too shall acquire a large catch like the others. The fisherman has learned the art of self-discipline and chooses to be balanced in his level of optimism and pessimism; as he sets out early for his fishing expeditions, he is comforted by the notion that his catch may materialize or the night would be there to offer the comfort need for the next day’s impetus.
The title of the poem is metaphorical as it likens the association between life and self-invention as a fishing activity. The imagery created in the metaphor is quite profound with the knowledge that fishing cannot be initiated without the proper equipment like bait, hook and fishing rod. Expertise is also required in the assembly of the fishing gear before any form of fishing can be realized. The fisherman therefore using the metaphor is brought out as a professional individual well versed in the practice of fishing either both in the intellectual and knowledge capacity. Every day he applies himself into doing what he knows best, fishing. As a wise practitioner, he understands the risk that accompanies the art of fishing namely loss of the bait or time wastage in instances where no fish pass by his fishing hook. Additionally, he knows that one can never have any catch unless he takes the risk because it is a win-win situation in both instances.
With the inclusion of other fishermen as an indicator of his rivals indicates that the metaphor is a conceptual type as it applies to a larger group (Deidgan 47). The metaphor primarily refers to life as a diverse element like the sea and with fishing marking a personal journey into self-discovery. The metaphors used in the description of the fishing activity express the fisherman’s thoughts and feelings to the reader and consequently impart an element of emotion that allows the audience to empathize with the fisherman. The initial phrase “a man spends his whole life fishing in himself for something grand” (Academy of American Poets 1-2) symbolizes an intrinsic search for self in the dispensable life environment unless one offers a grand contribution to overcome his trivial position. The narrator offers an honest recap of his failure to achieve a grand contribution to life by noting, “He’s only heard rumors, myths, vague promises of wonder” (Academy of American Poets 3-4). This frustration has only left him feeling more trivial than ever likened to the enormous shadow that has brought gloom in his life. The shadow symbolizes the replacement of the light element, a figure of hope.
The metaphor is used to amplify the effects of the shadow on the narrator’s life as initially marked by the occurrence of doubts as he starts debating whether the shadow is cast by the despair from his failure or the success of other individuals. The comparison that ensues reveals the fisherman’s problem as being an identity crisis enhanced by lack of personal belief. Note how he belittles himself due to low self-esteem by the remark “maybe it’s the shadow of other fish, greater than his, the shadow of other men’s souls passing over him” (Academy of American Poets 6-7). His fish, which are the achievements, are smaller and the other men are figuratively described as ‘passing over’ with him under. Further plot development is achieved by the despair metaphor as the fisherman now even challenges the credibility of fishing trips; in other words his existence. Brown then offers questions that challenges the fisherman’s sanity discredited by the implied assertion that he may be dead by the questioning of his existence.
Several metaphors are used to reveal the true nature of the fisherman in a sensitive way that uses implied metaphors as an empathic way of shouldering the existing hurt without enhancing it (Deidgan 47). The “puddle of tears” (Academy of American Poets 10) indicates heavy sobbing while the “frayed boards of his ego” (Academy of American Poets 11) evidence a broken spirit. The latter phrase denoted that although the fisherman’s ego is hurt, only a few chips are lost but the will to succeed still remains. Therefore, instead of sinking into a chasm of despair he weeps and finds renewed hope to match against the mocking elements of the overhanging clouds and the “wind whispering blandishments in his ears” (Academy of American Poets 13-14). The water being an embodiment of life refuses to let the fisherman and urges the fisherman to persist in his endeavors. The fisherman’s renewed hope is denoted as being resuscitated; life into a lifeless body that he had chosen to live as indicated by the phrase “the water heaves and settles like a chest…He’s not far out” (Academy of American Poets 14-15). Renewed hope is symbolized by the break of the sunshine through the clouds and a reassurance settles in.
Interestingly, with the revival of self-worth, the fisherman formulates a different strategy for his situation by opting to fish during the night “with its concealments, its shadow masking all other shadows…its privacies” (Academy of American Poets 18) offers a higher probability of success. No longer will the fisherman face the issue of low self-esteem by comparing himself to other’s achievements since they no longer exist in his world. He can now focus on himself and not on the other individuals and this reveals a final realization of self-worth, with only the “alluringly distant stars” (Academy of American Poets 19) being his only aim.
Academy of American Poets. Fisherman. 2002. Web. 10 March 2011. <http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16253>.
Brown, Kurt. More things in heaven and earth. New York: Four Way Books, 2002. Print.
Deidgan, Alice. Metaphor and corpus linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2005. Print.