April 1, 2010

A trout on a plate beats several in the aquarium

Perhaps it is appropriate that American humorist Guy Wetmore Carryl died on April Fool's Day. A Columbia University graduate, he went on to become a journalist, editor, and author before his death at age 31 on April 1, 1904. His first major work was Fables for the Frivolous, published in 1899.

The book presents both new fables and re-writes of some famous fables, often belittling the premise of the story and usually concluding with a moral. The fables, written entirely in verse, included titles like "The Persevering Tortoise and the Pretentious Hare." The book is populated by talking animals and plant life who often speak in puns. Some of the jokes are a little tasteless, most are just groaners.

In the tale of "The Microscopic Trout and the Machiavellian Fisherman," a man catches an "infinitesimal" fish. Seeing the dire predicament he was in, the trout was decidedly unhappy:

“I request,” he observed, “to be instantly flung
      Once again in the pool I’ve been living in.”
The fisherman said, “You will tire out your tongue.
      Do you see any signs of my giving in?
Put you back in the pool? Why, you fatuous fool,
      I have eaten much smaller and thinner fish.
You’re not salmon or sole, but I think, on the whole,
      You’re a fairly respectable dinner-fish.”

The fisherman’s cook tried her hand on the trout
      And with various herbs she embellished him;
He was lovely to see, and there isn’t a doubt
      That the fisherman’s family relished him,
And, to prove that they did, both his wife and his kid
      Devoured the trout with much eagerness,
Avowing no dish could compare with that fish,
      Notwithstanding his singular meagreness.

And The Moral, you’ll find, is although it is kind
      To grant favors that people are wishing for,
Still a dinner you’ll lack if you chance to throw back
      In the pool little trout that you’re fishing for;
If their pleading you spurn you will certainly learn
      That herbs will deliciously vary ’em:
It is needless to state that a trout on a plate
      Beats several in the aquarium.


  1. That is an awful poem but I bet that Carryl was fun at a party!

  2. The whole book is pretty awful! I read the entire thing before deciding which one to use as a representative poem here.