Vo l . 7 N o . 1 it in class in the company of Marlowe’s poem and of Sir Walter Raleigh’s famous parody, and he’d made a point of emphasizing “this is John Donne’s fishing poem.” So on the test he’d quoted a couple of lines, obvious ones he thought, and was rewarded with answers ranging from Marlowe (close at least) to Milton with George Herbert and Robert Herrick thrown in for good measure.
When thou wilt swim in that live bath, Each fish, which every channel hath, Will amorously to thee swim, Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.
Sweet poem, and quite memorable, or so he’d always thought, but apparently not: the lady in question might well qualify for his fantasy milkmaid. He’d quoted something from the last couple of quatrains:
Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest The bedded fish in banks out-wrest; Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies, Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.
For thee, thou need’st no such deceit, For thou thyself art thine own bait: That fish, that is not catch’d thereby, Alas, is wiser far than I.
Mike Mead and one of the girls (“young women,” he corrected his memory), Kristen, got it. Mike was one of the best, and he was a fly fisher, so, as he said in his comments on the test, “this poem speaks to me.” Kristen was very sharp, too, and was in love with Mike, so there it was. Kristen said she thought the poem was “not-so subtly sensual.” There was a Native American guy in the class, too, from the Colville Reservation—Stan? Steve?— and he knew about noodling, so he got the “coarse bold hands” reference, but he identified the poet at Andrew Marvell, so he got just partial credit, still better than most. Professor Wibbles contrived what he supposed was a deucedly clever essay on Donne’s “The Bait” and the related poems, a sort of pedagogical piece, but it found no takers even among the low-end scholarly journals. Meanwhile, the water looked fine and clear, just right in fact, down maybe a foot from opening day, when he’d managed to land only a single small cutthroat, just enough to be worth lighting his ritual cheroot. The professor had mentally fished the familiar stream for the past twenty or thirty miles, so he knew exactly what he
27 was going to do: Adams first, as always, then an orange Stimulator, and then, when he reached that fast run that dumped into the deepest hole, a black Wooly Booger. If that failed, if they all failed, he’d revert to his spinning rod and the newly purchased Panther Martin, drag that baby across the big hole a few times. If something didn’t go for that, the trout had taken up residence elsewhere. Time, 9:15 a.m. Place, Logjam River. Date, June 23, 2015. Status, single male, alone, an autonomous self, “Call me Theophilus.” Actually, TR reprimanded himself, do not call me “Theophilus,” his mother’s bizarre choice of moniker—“beloved of God.” His mother had wanted him to become not a professor but a pastor, a fisher of men, as it were. He’d spent most of his life concealing his given name from the world, resisting his father’s suggestion that he go by “Teddy” lest someone unearth the true origin of that name. In high school his friends called him “Rollie” or “Rollo,” but he’d eagerly chucked that overboard once he went away to college, embracing the nickname of Ernest Hemingway’s idol, Theodore Roosevelt (Theodore translating as “gift of God”). While still in grad school he contrived a semi-literary essay, not a scholarly article really, connecting Hemingway’s Nick Adams and Izaak Walton’s Piscator, which he placed in a mid-level literary magazine. “There is no such thing,” his colleague Walter, who occupied the office across the hall would declare, “as an ‘autonomous self.’ All selves are socially constructed. Period.” Walter Schiffmann was an aggressive postmodernist who grew up in Dresden, East Germany, and although he had taken his doctorate at Harvard more than thirty years ago, he still spoke with an authoritarian German accent. His parents had been consumed in the allied fire-bombing that gave rise to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel Schiffmann refused to read. TR rather suspected that Walter sustained the accent for effect, as it seemed in some mysterious way to lend credibility to his pronouncements. He also suspected his colleague had read the Vonnegut novel but could not bring himself to talk about it, or perhaps that was just a pose. Schiffmann, whose book on Don DeLillo had appeared to considerable fanfare two years previous, had a wonderful way of intimidating his students. Compared to him in the arts of intimidation, Wibbles was a rank amateur. Wibbles’ book on Sir Izaak Walton, intended to have evolved effortlessly and brilliantly from his doctoral dissertation, had instead disintegrated into a clutch of “interesting” or “engaging” articles published in this or
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim