Elizabeth Jennings


Elizabeth Jennings

Nationality: English

Elizabeth Jennings was a British poet and writer known for her lyrical and introspective style.

Her first collection was Poems in 1953.

The poem, Fishermen, by Elizabeth Jennings orbits around two generations of fishermen; the first ones are the aged fishermen, while the second ones are the boys who are too quick to draw up their net with frogs or tadpoles. Where in the first and second stanzas, the poet shows the aged and experienced fishermen waiting for long to catch the fish, and “leave the river full”, while in the third last stanza of the poem, she talks about the young boys who don’t want to wait but “Jeer at the patience” of those fishermen who keep waiting for hours and houses in the hope of catching a fish. These young fishermen remain in too hurry to draw back their net, and regard the river just as a source to be emptied.

Thus, with the presentation of this differentiation between the older and younger fishermen, the poet not only wants to draw a line between their patience, but also likes to reveal their outlook towards the river, and in other words towards the environment.

Just as the poet has brought to light the pitiable condition of the older fishermen, and their incapability and poorness of not getting success in catching fish, it draws a very poignant condition of the fishermen. On the other hand, when the poet reaches the third stanza of the poem, she brings to us the picture of the younger fishermen who believe in quick success, and believe that a river is just a source of enjoyment and is made to be emptied. The picturization of the older fishermen is very moving, while the presentation of the younger fishermen shows the generation gap, which has made these boys disregard even the river, which is also one of the sources of waters for a number of beings available on this Earth planet.

That apart, with the presentation and picturization of these two outlooks (older and newer fishermen) differentiation, the poet also differentiates between the relation of the older and younger fishermen towards the river. Where the former one has a very special relationship with it, the latter simply regard it as a source of fishing only.

Fishermen by Elizabeth Jennings


Language, Imagery, and Tone

Elizabeth Jennings has composed the poem, in her signature style, that is; quite simple and amazingly lyrical. The very first part of the poem has a metaphor, when the poet regards fish as “promises” escaping through weeds.  Besides, there is also the use of an evocative image, when Elizabeth says “Fill their eyes with water”, which brings to light the patience of the older fishermen who keep sitting solid on the bank of the river just in the hope of catching a fish. In all, the poet has tried to shed light on two different themes of the poem.

The first one is the attitude of each generation towards the river, and the second is how both generations of older and newer fishermen think towards life. In addition, the poet has also tried to bring into light the relationship between younger and older generations towards the river. The poet says where the one regards it merely as a source of fishing enjoyment, while the older generation considers it to be their only source of livelihood.


Fishermen Analysis

Stanza One

This to be peace, they think beside the river
Being adapted well to expectation
And their wives’ mutiny at no achievement
And yet can sit watching the promises
Escape through weeds and make a trial of biting,
Can lose them, thankful that it is not yet
Time to draw in the line and drain the net.

While we read through the first stanza of the poem, we are clearly made aware that the poet is talking about only what she has titled it. That is, the older fishermen who has enough patience to catch the fish. They keep sitting peacefully beside the river only in the hope of fish-biting the bait and trapping it (them) in the net.

Their patience of fish-biting has made them so adapted to the “expectation of catching fish” that they don’t care about the dissatisfaction of their wives who also hope that their husbands will bring something to their home.

For hours and hours, they keep sitting on the bank of river, waiting and watching the fish escaping through the weeds, and try to bite the line, but miss it on and off. However, in this struggle of biting and missing, they never lose their patience, rather console themselves with the thought that time hasn’t come to “draw in the line and drain the net”.


Stanza Two

Learning themselves in this uncertainty
Being so solid on the bank and still.

In this second stanza, Elizabeth tells how the fishermen learn from the uncertainty of fish-catching process. The poet tells that the process of fishing teaches the fishermen the lesson of patience, and they have to be calm and patience even when they do not succeed in catching any fish.

Whether they catch the fish or miss it, they stay strong and solid on the bank of the river, without caring about what their wives would say when they reach home. The poet here describes the fish as “promises” which escape through weeds.

That way, whatever is the result of their catching fish, they must have enough patience to wait for long so that when they can get success. This also indicates towards the importance of patience in our lives which each one of us must have to get success in our life. This stanza is also a lesson for those who are always in hurry to succeed, and do not care how it can affect their future. So, this stanza teaches about the certainty of waiting till succeed as the fishermen do to catch the fish.


Stanza Three

Only the boys who live in certainty,
Their eyes with water, leave the river full.

Where the above two stanzas of the poem are dedicated to struggle and patience of the older fishermen, its third last stanza brings to us the younger fishermen who too come to fishing, but don’t patience as the older ones have. The poet says that these younger fishermen “jeer at the patience”, that is; they mock at the long-waiting of the fishermen, and laugh it away. But truly, the poet says, they don’t get what for they come on the bank of river.

Since they are in too hurry so they draw back their net impatiently and without waiting for long, but to my surprise, only the “future frogs” or tadpoles are what they find in their fishing net. All their efforts are just to disturb the peaceful river which is “vague to them”, and they don’t even regard it as an entity with life. They simply believe that the river is simply a source that should be emptied.

But, on the other hand, for the older fishermen regard it with firm faith and dedication, and go on to wait for hours and hours even though it fills their eyes “with water”, that is; they go with naked hands with no fish in their net. But still, these older fishermen “leave the river full”. They don’t do like the younger fishermen do with it.

Get More with Poetry+

Upgrade to Poetry+ and get unlimited access to exclusive content, including:

Printable Poem Guides

Covering every poem on Poem Analysis (all 4,172 and counting).

Printable PDF Resources

Covering Poets, Rhyme Schemes, Movements, Meter, and more.

Ad-Free Experience

Enjoy poetry without adverts.

Talk with Poetry Experts

Comment about any poem and have experts answer.

Tooltip Definitions

Get tooltip definitions throughout Poem Analysis on 880 terms.

Premium Newsletter

Stay up to date with all things poetry.

Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question about the poem? Ask an expert.x

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share to...