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The Fish, the Man, and the Spirit

Leigh Hunt

To a Fish

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
   Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
   Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
   And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be,—
   Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste:—

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
   What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
   How pass your Sundays ? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
   And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?


A Fish Answers

Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
   With the first sight of thee didst make our race
   For ever stare! O flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
   With a split body and most ridiculous pace
   Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finn'd, haired, upright, unwet, slow!

O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
   How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
   Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
   Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.


The Fish Turns Into A Man, And Then Into A Spirit, And Again Speaks

Indulge thy smiling scorn, if smiling still,
   O man! and loathe, but with a sort of love;
   For difference must itself by difference prove,
And, in sweet clang, the spheres with music fill.
   One of the spirits am I, that at their will
   Live in whate'er has life—fish, eagle, dove—
No hate, no pride, beneath nought, nor above,
A visiter of the rounds of God's sweet skill.

Man's life is warm, glad, sad, 'twixt loves and graves,
   Boundless in hope, honoured with pangs austere,
Heaven-gazing; and his angel-wings he craves:—
   The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,
A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,
   Quickened with touches of transporting fear.


About this poem:
"As the transition from the ludicrous to the grave, in these verses, might otherwise appear too violent, the reader will permit me to explain how they arose. The first sonnet was suggested by a friend's laughing at a description I was giving him of the general aspect of fish (in which, by the way, if anybody is curious, let him get acquainted with them in Mr. Yarrell's excellent work on "British Fishes," now in course of publication); the second sonnet, being a lover of fair play, I thought but a just retort to be allowed to those fellow-creatures of ours, who so differ with us in eyeballs and opinions; and the third, not liking to leave a quarrel unsettled, and having a tendency to push a speculation as far as it will go, especially into those calm and heavenward regions from which we always return the better, if we calmly enter them, naturally became as serious as the peace of mind is, with which all speculations conclude that have harmony and lovingness for their real object. The fish, in his retort, speaks too knowingly of his human banterer, for a fish; but it will be seen, that a Spirit animates him for the purpose."

Leigh Hunt

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 3, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 3, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

Leigh Hunt

by this poet

poem
It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that
poem
Jenny kiss'd me when we met,   
  Jumping from the chair she sat in;   
Time, you thief, who love to get   
  Sweets into your list, put that in!   
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
  Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,   
Say I'm growing old, but add,   
      Jenny kiss'd me.