Aug. 9, 2011

Oh the gallant Fishers life

by Izaak Walton

Oh the gallant Fishers life,
It is the best of any,
'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife,
And 'tis belov'd of many:
Other joyes
are but toyes,
only this
lawful is,
for our skill
breeds no ill,
but content and pleasure.

In a morning up we rise,
Ere Aurora's peeping,
Drink a cup to wash our eyes,
Leave the sluggard sleeping:
Then we go
to and fro,
with our knacks
at our backs,
to such streams
as the Thames,
if we have the leasure.

When we pleas to walk abroad
For our recreation,
In the fields is our abode,
Full of delectation.
Where in a brook
with a book,
or a Lake,
fish we take;
there we sit,
for a bit,
till we fish intangle.

"Oh the gallant Fishers life,..." by Izaak Walton, from The Compleat Angler. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet who said: "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any — after all most people are unhappy, don't you think?" That's Philip Larkin (books by this author), born in Coventry, England (1922). His father was a Nazi sympathizer who kept a statue of Hitler on the mantelpiece, and his mother was submissive and anxious. Years later, when he wrote a poem about his childhood, he called it "a forgotten boredom."

Philip wasn't a very good student, but he did get into Oxford. There he met Kingsley Amis, who would be a lifelong friend. Larkin couldn't fight in World War II because of his bad eyesight, so after Oxford he got a job as a librarian in the town of Wellington in Shropshire. He was a librarian for the rest of his life — first in Wellington, then at University College in Leicester, then at the University of Hull in Yorkshire — and he didn't have many positive things to say about his career. He wrote of his time in Wellington: "I have never felt anything but degraded as the librarian in this hole of toad's turds," and, "The library is a very small one, I am entirely unassisted in my labors and spend most of my time handing out tripey novels to morons." Despite his complaints, his colleagues praised him as a model librarian — he improved the selection of books, lobbied for policy that benefited libraries, improved the aesthetics of the spaces, championed interlibrary loans, secured funding, increased inventory, and apparently took excellent minutes at library meetings.

Larkin had several long-term, simultaneous relationships, but he never married and he had no interest in being a father. He said, "Until I grew up I thought I hated everybody, but when I grew up I realized it was just children I didn't like."

Larkin published a couple of novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), as well as books of poetry, including The North Ship (1945), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974). Larkin hated publicity — he didn't like to do interviews, he wouldn't appear on television, and he turned down accolades — but his books were popular and still are, some of them best-sellers. A couple of years ago, "The Whitsun Weddings" was voted Britain's most popular poem.

When someone asked what he thought about the idea of becoming Britain's poet laureate, he replied: "I dream about that sometimes — and wake up screaming. With any luck they'll pass me over.''

He wrote "Waiting for breakfast, while she brushed her hair"

Waiting for breakfast, while she brushed her hair,
I looked down at the empty hotel yard
Once meant for coaches. Cobblestones were wet,
But sent no light back to the loaded sky,
Sunk as it was with mist down to the roofs.
Drainpipes and fire-escape climbed up
Past rooms still burning their electric light:
I thought: Featureless morning, featureless night.

Misjudgment: for the stones slept, and the mist
Wandered absolvingly past all it touched,
Yet hung like a stayed breath; the lights burnt on,
Pin-points of undisturbed excitement; beyond the glass
The colorless vial of day painlessly spilled
My world back after a year, my lost lost world
Like a cropping deer strayed near my path again,
Bewaring the mind's least clutch. Turning, I kissed her,
Easily for sheer joy tipping the balance to love.

But, tender visiting,
Fallow as a deer or an unforced field,
How would you have me? Towards your grace
My promises meet and lock and race like rivers,
But only when you choose. Are you jealous of her?
Will you refuse to come till I have sent
Her terribly away, importantly live
Part invalid, part baby, and part saint?

It was on this day in 1854 that Henry David Thoreau's Walden was published (books by this author). The Boston publishing house, Ticknor and Fields, printed 2,000 copies at a cost of one dollar each. It took five years to sell out the original print run, and then Walden went out of print.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to his friend George Bradford that in the days before its publication, Thoreau was "walking up and down Concord, firm-looking, but in a tremble of great expectation." Thoreau did not admit to being so excited. On the day of publication, he wrote a very short journal entry, in its entirety: "To Boston. Walden published. Elder-berries. Waxwork yellowing."

In Walden, Thoreau wrote: "Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me."

And, "If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, — that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself."

And, "As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented. Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good."

And, "I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in these seasons like corn in the night."

It's the birthday of biographer Izaak Walton (books by this author), born in Stafford, England (1593). As a boy, he was apprenticed to an ironmonger, and he spent his career as a shopkeeper. In his spare time, he wrote biographies of John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Wotton, and several others. Many of Walton's subjects shared his main passion in life: fishing. In 1653, Walton published The Compleat Angler; or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation, an extended ode to fishing, complete with tips, funny anecdotes, technical instructions, dialogues, poems, and commentary about what makes fishing so special. Walton continued to update The Compleat Angler until his death in 1683 at the age of 90. It has been in print for more than 350 years.

In The Compleat Angler, he wrote: "The Trout is a Fish highly valued both in this and forraign Nations; he may be justly said (as the old Poet said of Wine, and we English say of Venison) to be a generous Fish: a Fish that is so like the Buck, that he also has his seasons; for it is observed, that he comes in and goes out of season with the Stag and Buck: Gesner sayes, his name is of a Germane offspring, and sayes he is a Fish that feeds clean and purely, in the swiftest streams, and on the hardest gravel: and that he may justly contend with all freshwater-Fish, as the Mullet may with all Sea-Fish, for precedency and daintinesse of taste, and that being in right season, the most dainty pallates have allowed precedency to him."

And, "The Carp bites either at worms or at paste, and of worms I think the blewish Marsh or Meadow worm is best, but possibly another worm not too big may do as well, and so may a green Gentle; And as for pastes, there are almost as many sorts as there are Medicines for the Toothach, but doubtless sweet pastes are best; I mean, pastes made with honey or with sugar: which, that you may the better beguile this crafty Fish, should be thrown into the Pond or place in which you fish for him some hours before you undertake your tryal of skill with the Angle-rod: and doubtless if it be thrown into the water a day or two before, at several times and in small pellets, you are the likelier when you fish for the Carp to obtain your desired sport: or in a large Pond to draw them to any certain place, that they may the better and with more hope be fished for, you are to throw into it in some certain place, either Grains or Bloud mixt with Cow-dung, or with Bran; or any Garbage, as Chickens guts or the like, and then some of your small sweet pellets with which you purpose to angle: and these small pellets being a few of them also thrown in as you are Angling. [...] First I will tell you how to make this Carp that is so curious to be caught, so curious a dish of meat as shall make him worth all your labour; and though it is not without some trouble and charges, yet it will recompence both. Take a Carp (alive if possible), scour him, and rub him clean with water and salt, but scale him not, then open him, and put him with his bloud and his liver (which you must save when you open him) into a small pot or kettle; then take sweet Margerome, Time and Parsley, of each half a handful, a sprig of Rosemary, and another of Savoury, bind them into two or three small bundles, and put them to your Carp, with four or five whole Onyons, twenty pickled Oysters, and three Anchovies. Then pour upon your Carp as much claret wine as will onely cover him; and season your claret well with salt, Cloves and Mace, and the rinds of Oranges and Lemons, cover your pot and set it on a quick fire, till it be sufficiently boiled; then take out the Carp and lay it with the broth into the dish, and pour upon it a quarter of a pound of fresh butter melted and beaten, with half a dozen spoonfuls of the broth, the yolks of two or three eggs, and some of the herbs shred, garnish your dish with Lemons and so serve it up."

He wrote: "Sir, if you take us Anglers to be such simple men as I have spoken of, then myself and those of my profession will be glad to be so understood: but if by simplicity you meant to express a general defect in those that profess and practice the excellent art of Angling, I hope in time to disabuse you, and make the contrary appear so evidently, that, if you will but have patience to hear me, I shall remove all the anticipations that discourse, or time, or prejudice, have possessed you with against that laudable and ancient art; for I know it is worthy the knowledge and practice of a wise man."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show