Tuesday poem: The fish

by Mary Oliver

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.

This wonderful poem is by Mary Oliver, an American poet of enormous importance who’s won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, and whose work reflects her abiding interest in the natural world as well as in the ways in which we express our lives. I remembered it when I was sent the fish photo by Wendy Gordon yesterday. Wendy and Colin were out in their boat on the Hauraki Gulf, in fact they’d just anchored off Ponui Island, and Wendy was about to take the fish to their farm managers there. But she took a picture of them for me first, which isn’t as good as being there and eating them in fine company. But it’s good enough when the photo can get to me in London, five minutes after Wendy took it 12,000 miles away. So I want to celebrate the modern world as well as the natural world, and friendship as well as this poem, and, oh! fish.

5 Responses to “Tuesday poem: The fish”

  1. AJ Says:

    I think I can almost smell the fishing expeditions of my youth, all salt air, molluscs and fishguts and the gentle lap of water against the boat. A remarkable poem twisting its way into life and death :)

  2. admin Says:

    I had much the same visceral response to it when I first read it – and she’s such a great poet, isn’t she? Getting straight to the heart of the matter with apparent simplicity.

  3. Elizabeth Welsh Says:

    Ooh, I am a big fan of Mary Oliver too – she is so incredibly prolific there is always a new treasure to be discovered! ‘and died in the slow pouring off of rainbows’ – what a line. Thanks so much for posting, Belinda!

  4. Pat Calton Buoncristiani Says:

    Yes, we are nourished by pain. What a fabulous mystery, the interweaving of pain, nourishment, beauty. So glad to have this place Belinda. I shall follow with great interest.
    Love, Pat

  5. admin Says:

    Pat! How lovely to have a comment from you, and such a truthfully interesting one as well.

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