Wallowing in this bloody sty,
I cast for fish that pleased my eye
(Truly Jehovah’s bow suspends
No pots of gold to weight its ends);
Only the blood-mouthed rainbow trout
Rose to my bait. They flopped about
My canvas creel until the moth
Corrupted its unstable cloth.

A calendar to tell the day;
A handkerchief to wave away
The gnats; a couch unstuffed with storm
Pouching a bottle in one arm;
A whiskey bottle full of worms;
And bedroom slacks: are these fit terms
To mete the worm whose molten rage
Boils in the belly of old age?

Once fishing was a rabbit’s foot–
O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot,
Let suns stay in or suns step out:
Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale’s spout–
The fisher’s fluent and obscene
Catches kept his conscience clean.
Children, the raging memory drools
Over the glory of past pools.

Now the hot river, ebbing, hauls
Its bloody waters into holes;
A grain of sand inside my shoe
Mimics the moon that might undo
Man and Creation too; remorse,
Stinking, has puddled up its source;
Here tantrums thrash to a whale’s rage.
This is the pot-hole of old age.

Is there no way to cast my hook
Out of this dynamited brook?
The Fisher’s sons must cast about
When shallow waters peter out.
I will catch Christ with a greased worm,
And when the Prince of Darkness stalks
My bloodstream to its Stygian term . . .
On water the Man-Fisher walks.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Robert Lowell's poem The Drunken Fisherman


  1. I have contemplated this poem for many years….I also have thought about it as a picture of man’s hopelessness and Salvation through Christ

  2. Emily says:

    Actually, Kevin, it’s a little more complicated than that. The drunken fisherman is a metahpor. Lowell, a devout Catholic, is setting it up so that he is fishing for salvation. He compares blood and water in the first few lines. He wishes to “catch fish” to validate his purpose as a fisherman, or, his purpose in life. The river is slowly disappearing with age, which represents the inability for it to hold the weight of human desire. The last line shows his comparasin to Christ, and how we should look to Him for salvation.

    Lowell also points out that with every choice we make that’s one less choice for humanity TO make. It is only a matter of time before the end of the universe. Our culture is headed toward cultural entropy.

    The central purpose IS one of hofplessnes, as salvation seems less and less obtainable as the fisherman stands in the river.

  3. Kevin says:

    Speaker- Fisherman

    Situation- A depressed drunken Fisherman is asking why his life is so hard and explaining how he has to deal with it.

    Central Purpose- To reveal a mood or emotion of depresion and hoplessness.

    The cantral purpose is achieved by using imagry and metaphor. Lines(6-8, 38-39 and 1)

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