I’ve always thought Thomas Hardy would have made a great fisherman, and a great fishing writer and poet too.
Sensitive, contemplative, wry and deeply immersed in the ancient rhythms of rural life – fishing would have presented him with yet another level of creative connection to the Wessex countryside he loved.
Who knows where Tess Durbeyfield’s adventures might have taken her in the Valley of the Big Dairies if Hardy had also seen it, with an angler’s clarity (or singlemindedness), as the chalkstream channel of the Frome?
And as a master of irony on the universal scale, the smaller juxtapositions of joy and tragedy that fill a day astream, and their mortal significance to at least some of their participants, surely wouldn’t have been lost on him either.
Despite being surrounded by the fieldsporting squirearchy of Dorset (including, in his old age, a very young Roderick Haig-Brown), I’m not aware that this particular Hardy was ever hooked. Yet with one poem above all, and without mentioning or even intending to reference our sport, I think he perfectly plumbs the deep waters of why we who go fishing, do.
Hoping against hope and maybe even against experience; a quiet personal quest conceived on nothing more than a nod from a kindred spirit; a glimmer of light in the darkness of our most atavistic human half-knowledge and compulsions.
It’s also perfectly right for remembering and repeating in the long solsticial nights of this time of year.
So, whether or not you buy this fanciful literary what-if (a writer’s conceit if ever there was one), here it is. The Oxen, my personal favourite amongst all of Hardy’s wonderful works:
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock:
“Now they are all on their knees,”
an elder said as we sat in a flock
by the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
they dwelt in their strawy pen.
Nor did it occur to one of us there
to doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
in these years! Yet, I feel,
if someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come, see the oxen kneel
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
our childhood used to know” –
I should go with him into the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
A very Merry Christmas all who read this blog… and a Piscatorially hopeful New Year!