The Fisherman

Notes by Arthur Chilcott

Whilst many of Yeats’ poems are written in a manner to convey great passion, ‘The Fisherman’ is particularly so. It is about Yeats’ disdain for the masses, for their disrespect of art and their general inadequacy (or at least his perception of this). He also takes the opportunity to create an image of the perfect man, his perfect audience: that image is embodied in the persona of a fisherman:


In grey Connemara clothes

At dawn to cast his flies,

 It’s long since I began

 To call up to the eyes


This wise and simple man.


The simple rhyme scheme and language helps to illustrate his point. The words and sentence structure are remarkably restrained and plain for Yeats; it is written for just such an oxymoronic “wise and simple man” as he describes. The phrase “wise and simple implies an intelligent man, but one without the need for materialistic extravagancies. The lack of extravagancies demanded by the lifestyle of his perfect receptacle is mirrored by the lack of pretention in the form of his verse.

The poem becomes even more emotional in the second stanza, when Yeats moves on from the ideal person to the archetypal member of ‘the masses’, reeling off what could almost be called a list of everything which he despises them for. His criticism is absolutely scathing here, the tension and anger almost burning its way off the page, building to a crescendo at the end of the stanza:


The beating down of the wise

 And great Art beaten down.


This is part of the main point of the poem; that “Art – all the arts, in other words, including poetry in particular – is being slowly diminished by the ignorance of the general public, that the culture of Ireland is being slowly destroyed by those who look no further than “a drunken cheer”.


The beginning of the third stanza seems slightly different in tone. It is as if Yeats paused for breath and calmed down a little before continuing. After his furious rant, he now reflects back on what he has written, displaying more clarity and less naivety than he did at the beginning. Once again he describes his embodiment of the ideal man in the perfect rural setting, but this time admits that he is “A man who does not exist, / A man who is but a dream; – no longer is he vainly fantasising about how people should be. He is now facing up the reality of the situation and declaring, in the final four lines, that he is determined to use the very thing the masses are trying to diminish, his Art, to retaliate; he will use his poems to make his point: his poetry is his weaponry, his defence against what he saw as the onslaught of the mundane world.

18 thoughts on “The Fisherman

    • Yeats shows the contrast between Traditional Ireland and Modern Ireland. This contrast is evident when he says “the living men I hate”; Yeats is launching a verbal attack on modern society. His language is forceful; he feels hatred towards people like William Murphy they are in contrast with people like John Millington Synge. The rest of the stanza is dedicated to illustrate what Yeats sees as the most repugnant trait of Irish society-: “the craven man in his seat”. This refers to the drunk and modern ‘cute’ politician. Whereas, the traditional Ireland was “the wise and simple man” implying that Ireland was the intelligent man. But now the Traditional Ireland has been lost as the Modern Ireland is a “drunken cheer”. This suggests that the culture has been destroyed by those “drunken” people.

      Is that correct, sir ?

  1. I thought The Fisherman was a single stanza? Its laid out as a single stanza in my copy of his poem. Is that wrong?

    • The imagery of the stone is evident within Easter 1916 and The Man and the Echo. The Fisherman is seen as an inspiration for Yeats, similar to An Irish Airman..

      • It couls also link to ‘September 1913’ as there is a certain reference to the fact that ‘the wise and simple man’ needs no material extravagancies, unlike the shopkeepers who ‘fumble’ in their ‘greasy tills’.

    • In Sailing to Byzantium an image is created of Yeats being isolated and alone as an ageing man- in The Fisherman the idea of Yeats feeling separated from his society is also created, from the hatred he describes of modern Ireland. In the last few lines there is also the idea of age being a constraint – he has to write a poem “Before I am old”

    • The words, sentence structure are remarkably restrained and plain in comparison to many of Yeats other works, the simple rhyme scheme and language all help to enhance the illustration of the pure simplicity and humbleness of the Irishman.

      I hope this helps…I wasn’t entirely sure myself… 🙂

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  3. It was published in “Responsibilites” 1914 at the time of political struggles in Ireland as they were under UK Rule. cross refer to September 1913 with contrast of romantic artistic Ireland and grey modern Ireland full of drunk people who have destroyed art. Imagery of grey has an impact on mood – conveys sadness/depression. Yeats use of chiasmus: “the living men I hate the dead man I loved” further embeds his hatred for modern Irish society and William Murphy. He uses art as a form of escapism from Irish troubles. Use of enjambment impacts on his anger and run on of thoughts about modern Irish. Final quatrain emphasises art and nature are ideal factors of fisherman and Yeats critical views. Murphy can also be alluded to Easter 1916 in relation to James Connolly a friend of Yeats who died for Irish independence ( the man that he loved).

  4. This poem could be related to “Easter 1913” as in stanza one Yeats mocks the new Ireland saying it is now a place “where motley is worn”. Motley is traditionally worn by a jester highlighting the fact that Yeats thinks that Ireland is turning into a joke.The refrain of “All changed, changed utterly // A terrible beauty is born” presents the reader with an oxymoron which reflects how Yeats may feel conflicted about the new Ireland. Meaning that even though the old traditonal Ireland which was full of arts has gone and Yeats hates this, he also recognises the importance of change in Ireland as it will bring about the independence they have always wanted. In “Easter 1916” Yeats makes it clear that within this change revolutionaries have personally sacrificed too much for the sake of politics as the violence and bloodshed has ended many lives but knows that without this Ireland would not be the free state it is now.

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