The Old Poems and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

A while back, I recorded an episode of The Incomparable in which we talked about assigned reading. Love it or hate it, most of us had to do it in school. That was a really fun episode with rather a lot of catharsis. Man, we hated some of the stuff we had to read! There’s love in there too—in a few cases, love for books others hated! I recommend the ep if it sounds even the littlest bit interesting to you.

As so often happens, one podcast led to another. If you aren’t aware, John McCoy has a new(ish) podcast called Sophomore Lit, in which he and a guest talk about the books assigned to students. Incomparable panelist John Siracusa pointed out the overlap between our assigned-reading episode and Sophomore Lit, and John (McCoy) was happy to invite folks on to delve more deeply into a single book. You know me. I have trouble passing up an opportunity to podcast!

I sent him a list of books I’d read and remembered, and he asked if I’d be willing to talk about one of the almost-universally assigned books—Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. And I was! If you’re interested in my thoughts on that slight volume, check out episode 10 of Sophomore Lit.

What I’ve got for you here is so much worse. Or better, depending on your perspective. You see, when I read The Old Man and the Sea in high school, instead of writing an essay about it, I wrote a poem. Or actually, two poems. Yep. I was an angsty teenager, and terrible poetry came to me as easily as breathing, so of course I was gonna choose that as a way of completing my homework.

Wonder of wonders, I still have the poems! I dug them out from amongst the rest of the dreck (and oh golly, is there some real dreck), and figured what the hell? Why not share them with the world. So without further ado, here they are. My freshman-year self would be so pleased to have her poems on the internet. If she knew what the internet was.

Santiago’s Story

Santiago was a fisherman
Who sailed in the Gulf Stream
For 84 days he caught no fish
To catch a marlin was his dream

The 85th day he rowed out far
Into the waters deep
He spoke out loud unto himself
‘Cause his own company he’d keep

He Dropped his lines into the sea
He kept them very straight
And soon he caught a tuna fish
An albacore he’d use for bait

Before too long he hooked a fish
It seemed to be quite strong
The marlin towed the little fish
It kept on swimming very long

It pulled the boat for 3 whole days
And then started to jump
Santiago held the line
Fast through his veins his blood did pump

When finally the fish got near
He took out his harpoon
He drove it deep into the fish
It died, but not a bit too soon

He tied the carcass to the boat
And slowly sailed away
But left a trail of blood
So knew there’d soon be sharks to slay

He tried to keep the sharks at bay
All night he fought alone
He lost his harpoon, knife, and club
Soon all left of his fish was bone

He sadly went straight home to bed
Let sleep take him away
He knew that soon he would wake up
And live to fish another day

Santiago was a fisherman
Who sailed in the Gulf Stream
For 84 days he caught no fish
To catch a marlin was his dream

Yep. That was a poem alright. Hey, at least there’s no question I read the book! I managed to squeeze pretty much all the events into these few stanzas. Economy of language? Eat your heart out Hemingway.

The second poem is a sequel to the story. Because that’s the sort of thing they ask you to do in high school.

Santiago’s Recovery

As you sit there staring out
The sea, it calls your name
You hear its voice
You have no choice
The longing in you stays the same

Until the day you sail again
Upon its waves so high
You’ll want to be
Out on the sea
To fish until you die

I have to admit, I’m rather fond of this one. I like the flow and the rhythm and the rhyme scheme. Maybe teen-me wasn’t as completely talentless as I thought.


I’m pretty sure I got an A. So I guess that’s something.

And to round things off, I figured I’d see what kind of poem I’d come up with at this point in my life. It’s doggerel, of course, but it was fun to exercise that part of my brain for a change.

A marathon and not a sprint
A war and not a battle
A contest drags as fish drags man
A soundtrack: solo prattle

The symbols flow, the symbols ebb
The bestial and the Christian
The story deep as the Gulf Stream
The plot thick as fish fins

Perhaps not much better than the efforts of past-me. I wonder if Mr. Rick would give me an A on this one? Methinks not.

I’ll give myself a C.*





*Pun 100% intended.



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