The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife by Patrick Fernando is a six stanza poem, each stanza of which rhymes in the same pattern of alternating every other other line. There are a few half rhymes, and missed rhymes throughout that do not take away from the overall feeling of the poem. The lines in each stanza of the poem decrease in number as the poem proceeds.
Summary of The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife
This six stanza poem tells the story of the marriage between a fisherman and his wife who is mourning his passing. The poem/story is told from the perspective of the wife. The speaker walks the reader through the beginning of their marriage, how at first it was loveless and arranged by their families but it soon turned passionate. The wife becomes pregnant after a long monsoon keeps the fisherman home for three months.
The speaker continues telling the story of their lives together by highlighting their reactions to finding out about the coming child. She describes her fear about telling him and his unease at the news. He was soon to cherish her and she became “more than God or temptation” to him.
The poem then reaches the beginning of the end and the speaker goes back to describing the impact the loss of her husband has had on her and her children. The youngest believes he is just sleeping and the others weep for him.
The wife is experiencing another dramatic overhaul of her life while those around her attempt to comfort her and see to the mundane details of life. Once more her life is made new, represented by the raging of a new storm. You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife
The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife begins with the narration of the mourning wife as she outlines their relationship. She speaks of days past when the husband was,
…not quite thirty and the sun
Hand not yet tanned you into old-boat brown,
She is reminiscing on better times at the beginning of this piece, she looks back with pleasure on the days during which their love was still new and the husband’s body had not started being worn down by long hard days in the sun. Eventually, she informs us, his body will turn “old-boat brown,” his skin the color of aging wood, but not at this point in the memory.
Additionally, the husband had not yet become “embittered like the rest” or, as he would in the future, “grown / obsessed with death.” These were all features of his personality that were yet to come.
It was during these days that it seems as if the speaker was happiest. She remembers him coming home to her after a long day of work and how he would hurry home to her like “a gull flying pointed home.” With strong intent and single-mindedness, it was to the wife that the fisherman came home everyday. He only had one direction in which he would go, and he went hastily and with self control, or “continence.”
The poem takes a quick turn at the beginning of the second stanza as the speaker gives the reader a quick reminder that this poem is not about happy love but about a mournful death. Fernando begins this stanza by having his speaker state,
Now that, being dead, you are beyond detection.
And I need not be discreet, let us confess.
The husband, the reader is reminded, has passed, and the wife has a number of things that she wants to discuss. She describes him as being “beyond detection,” he is unable to respond to her words, and is physically beyond detection as he is no longer present in the house.
She begins her confession by admitting what they both know, that they did not marry for love but because their parents, or “elders,” arranged their marriage (a common practice in Sri Lanka). The speaker seems to be somewhat embarrassed of this fact or at least had been unwilling in the past to discuss it. Their love would later grow to much more than just a man and a woman living together without love, but the speaker feels the need to discuss their lives in totality.
When they first shared a bed together her “eyes were open in the dark unlike in love.” She did not feel the passion of love in her arranged marriage and was conflicted by what she hoped he’d do. On one hand she was nervous that he would not sleep with her, leaving her a “maid.” She was also fearful that he would choose to be with her and she was,
Trembling on the other hand for my virginity.
The third stanza takes the reader deeper into their relationship as a monsoon strikes and the husband is forced to stay at home. This stanza is filled with descriptions of the sea that can be seen as a metaphor for the budding of a passionate love between the fisherman and his wife.
The sky, the speaker says, “cracked like a shell” and “In thunder, the rain broke through.” This “crack[ing]” of the sky can been seen as the breaking apart of the barriers between the two, and the rain falling in as the love that would soon fill the space between them.
At the end of the storm when, “the pouring ceased the storm winds fell,” the gulls returned to the area around their home and they too were remade. Their plumage was new and they had about them a wildness that they had not before. The outcome of the new love that is found by the fisherman and his wife is revealed at the end of this stanza,
I was with child.
The fourth stanza of this poem reveals the depth of the new love between the two and the fisherman’s reaction when he is told of their coming child. The speaker begins by revealing her fear over her husband’s reaction, her “face was wan,” or pale, and her voice low. At first the fisherman was confused by the news, he did not know whether the child was something to be excited about or something to regret.
And you seemed full of guilt and not to know
Whether to repent or rejoice over the situation
He goes to sea soon after this news and comes to the realization that his wife is “more than God or temptation.” She means more to him than either the temptations of life, sent by the devil, or the glory of God. The wife concludes this stanza by saying that he means just as much to her.
The fifth stanza of the poem is the beginning of the end and Fernando turns his speaker back towards mourning.
She begins by saying that some people on the outside believe they understand what her loss feels like and say things like, “Men come and go” in what is most likely meant to be an effort to comfort. On the inside, within her own home, her children are weeping. This short statement makes it clear to the reader that more time has passed than can be covered in the poem as the couple has had multiple children. The youngest of her children does not understand death and believes his/her father is just sleeping.
The second half of the fifth stanza speaks of the loss that the speaker feels. The death of her husband feels to her as if she has lost her own hand and it is not some “simple grief” that she can easily “assuage,” or make easier.
The poem concludes with an overarching description, just like that which was provided in the third stanza, about the state of the world around the fisherman’s wife when she loses her husband.
Outside of her home a strong wind pulls the leaves from the tree that used to nurse them. Just as the “tree” in her life, her husband, has been blown away and left her without the one that used to “nurse” her.
The sky, just as it did when they first found love for one another, cracks open and the world is torn apart.
The final three lines of the poem shock the reader back to reality. The speaker concludes by saying that while all of this chaos has been happening around her, mourning and weeping and the sky being torn asunder…
…someone practical has gone
To make them bring the hearse
Before the rain.
Another rain storm is on the horizon and while the speaker is focused on the vast change that has come once again into her life, others continue on with their mundane, practical, lives.
About Patrick Fernando
Patrick Fernando was a Sri Lankan poet born in 1931. He is best known for his poetry depicting the life, loves, and trials of the people of Sri Lanka, especially that portrayed in The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife. He died in 1983.