PiscesSymbolism.

The Fisherman and his Wife – A Folk Tale (A medium sized story)

The Fisherman and his Wife – A Folk Tale

There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a ditch, close by the sea-side. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing and one day, as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at the shining water and watching his line, all on a sudden his float was dragged away deep under the sea; and in drawing it up he pulled a great fish out of the water. The fish said to him, “Pray let me live: I am not a real fish; I am an enchanted prince, put me in the water again, and let me go.” “Oh!” said the man, “you need not make so many words about the matter; I wish to have nothing to do with a fish that can talk; so swim away as soon as you please.” Then he put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom and left a long streak of blood behind him.

When the fisherman went home to his wife in the ditch, he told her how he had caught a great fish, and how it told him that is was an enchanted prince, and that on hearing it speak he had let it go again. “Did you not ask it for anything?” said the wife. “No,” said the man; “what should I ask for?” “Ah! said the wife, “we live very wretchedly here in this nasty sticking ditch, do go back, and tell the fish we want a little cottage.” The fisherman did not much like the business, however, he went to the sea, and when he came there the water looked all yellow and green. And he stood at the water’s edge, and said:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

Then the fish came swimming to him, and said, “Well, what does she want?” “Ah!” answered the fisherman, “my wife says that when I had caught you, I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go again, she does not like living any longer in the ditch, and wants a little cottage.” “Go home then,” said the fish’ “she is in the cottage already.” So the man went home, and saw his wife standing at the door of a cottage. “Come in come in,” said she’ “is not this much better than the ditch?” And there was a parlour, and a bed-chamber, and a kitchen; and behind the cottage there was a little garden with all sorts of flowers and fruits, and a courtyard full of ducks and chickens. “Ah! said the fisherman, “how happily we shall live!” “We will try to do so at least,” said his wife.

Everything went right for a week or two, and then Dame Alice said, “Husband, there is not room enough in this cottage, the courtyard and the garden are a great deal too small; I should like to have a large stone castle to live in so go to the fish again and tell him to give us a castle.” “Wife, said the fisherman, “I don’t like to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry; we ought to be content with the cottage.” “Nonsense!” said the wife; “he will do it very willingly; go along and try.” The fisherman went; but his heart was very heavy: and when he came to the sea it looked blue and gloomy, though it was quite calm, and he went close to it, and said:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

“Well, what does she want now? said the fish. “Ah!” said the man very sorrowfully, “my wife wants to live in a stone castle.” “Go home, then,” said the fish; “she is standing at the door of it already.” So away went the fisherman, and found his wife standing before a great castle. “See,” said she, “is not this grand?” With that they went into the castle together, and found a great many servants there, and the rooms all richly furnished and full of golden chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a garden, and a wood half a mile long, full of sheep, and goats , and hares, and deer; and in the courtyard were stables and cowhouses. “Well!” said the man, “now will we live contented and happy in the beautiful castle for the rest of our lives.” “Perhaps we may,” said the wife “but let us consider and sleep upon it before we make up our minds:” so they went to bed.

The next morning, when Dame Alice awoke, it was broad daylight, and she jogged the fisherman with her elbow, and said, “Get up, husband and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land.” “Wife, wife,” said the man, “why should we wish to be king? I will not be king.” “Then I will,” said Alice. “But, wife” answered the fisherman, “how can you be king? the fish cannot make you a king.” “Husband,” said she, “say no more about it, but go and try: I will be king!” So the man went away, quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. The sea looked a dark-grey colour, and was covered with foam as he cried out:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

“Well, what would she have now?” said the fish. “Alas!” said the man, “my wife wants to be king.” “Go home,” said the fish; “she is king already.” Then the fisherman went home; and as he came close to the palace, he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets; and when he entered in, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head: and on each side of her stood six beautiful maidens, each a head taller than the other. “Well, wife,” said the fisherman, “are you king?” “Yes,” said she, “I am king.”

And when he looked at her for a long time, he said, “Ah, wife! what a fine thing it is to be king! now we shall never have anything more to wish for.” “I don’t know how that may be,” said she; “never is a long time. I am king, ’tis true, but I begin to be tired of it, and I think I should like to be emperor.” “Alas, wife! why should you wish to be emperor?” “Husband, “said she, “go to the fish; I say I will be emperor.” “Ah, wife!” replied the fisherman, “the fish cannot make an emperor, and I should not like to ask for such a thing.” “I am king,” said Alice, “and you are my slave, so go directly!”

So the fisherman was obliged to go; and he muttered as he went along, “This will come to no good, it is too much to ask, the fish will be tired at last, and then we shall repent of what we have done.” He soon arrived at the sea, and the water was quite black and muddy, and a mighty whirlwind blew over it; but he went to the shore, and said:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

“What would she have now? said the fish. “Ah!” said the fisherman, “she wants to be emperor.” “Go home,” said the fish; “she is emperor already.” So he went home again; and as he came near he saw his wife sitting on a very lofty throne made of solid gold , with a great crown on her head full two yards high, and on each side of her stood her guards and attendants in a row, each one smaller than the other, from the tallest giant down to a little dwarf no bigger than my finger. And before her stood princes, and dukes, and earls: and the fisherman went up to her and said, “Wife are you emperor?” “Yes,” said she, “I am emperor.”

“Ah!” said the man as he gazed upon her, “what a fine thing it is to be emperor!” “Husband,” said she, “why should we stay at being emperor? I will be pope next.” “O wife, wife!” said he, “how can you be pope? there is but one pope at a time in Christendom.” “Husband,” said she, “I will be pope this very day.” “But,” replied the husband, “the fish cannot make you pope.” “What nonsense!” said she; “if he can make an emperor, he can make a pope, go try him.”

So the fisherman went. But when he came to the shore the wind was raging, and the sea was tossed up and down like boiling water, and the ships were in the greatest distress and danced upon the waves most fearfully; in the middle of the sky there was a little blue, but towards the south it was all red, as if a dreadful storm was rising. At this the fisherman was terribly frightened, and trembled, so that his knees knocked together; but he went to the shore and said:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

“What does she want now?” said the fish. “Ah!” said the fisherman. “my wife wants to be pope.” “Go home,” said the fish, “she is pope already.” Then the fisherman went home, and found his wife sitting on a throne that was two miles high, and she had three great crowns on her head, and around her stood all the pomp and power of the church; and on each side were two rows of burning lights, of all sizes, the greatest as large as the highest and biggest tower in the world, and the least no larger than a small rushlight. “Wife,” said the fisherman, as he looked at all this grandeur, “are you pope?” “Yes,” said she, “I am pope.”

“Well wife,” replied he, “it is a grand thing to be pope; and now you must be content, for you can be nothing greater!” “I will consider of that,” said the wife. Then they went to bed: but Dame Alice could not sleep all night for thinking what she should be next. At last morning came, and the sun rose. “Ah!” thought she as she looked at it through the window, “cannot I prevent the sun rising?” At this she was very angry, and wakened her husband, and said, “Husband, go to the fish and tell him I want to be lord of the sun and moon.” The fisherman was half asleep, but the thought frightened him so much, that he started and fell out of bed. “Alas wife!” said he, “cannot you be content to be pope?” “No,” said she, “I am very uneasy, and cannot bear to see the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish directly.”

Then the man went trembling for fear; and as he was going down to the shore a dreadful storm arose, so that the trees and the rocks shook; and the heavens became black, and the lightning played, and the thunder rolled; and you might have seen in the sea great black waves like mountains with a white crown of foam upon them; and the fisherman said:

“O man of the sea!

Come listen to me,

For Alice my wife,

The plague of my life,

Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”

“What does she want now?” said the fish. “Ah!” said he, “she wants to be lord of the sun and moon.” “Go home,” said the fish, “to your ditch again!” And there they live to this very day.

 

The End.

__________________________________________________

 

What a great yarn. Funny. This is a Grimms folk tale so it’s public access and not my own story.

It’s public access because it’s a traditional folk tale.

 

Wiki says,

‘Collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 The brothers were German academics who collected and published European, mainly German folklore. The tale is of Aarne-Thompson type 555, about dissatisfaction and greed.’

You may want to stop here, as these are purely my thoughts about this story of ‘dissactisfaction and greed’.

The Aarne-Thompson is an index of folklore. There is now a TV program based, loosely, upon the stories. I hope that they keep the extremely dry humour. This woman wasn’t just a plague she would have happily ruined the world for her wish to control it!

Stories are important learning tools for all of us. We can learn from the subtle, maybe not so subtle, lessons within them. This one containing a repeating rhyme is especially interesting to children as it’s simple and easy for them to grasp. There are also many topics for non-forced learning within the story and mentions of interesting points for discussion including giants, dwarfs, gold and diamonds.

It’s funny as no one can imagine many things about this story. The magical talking fish, the ungratefulness of the wife and the undying patience and loyalty of the husband. One may be tempted to think of this story of only one meaning, the “The Spoilt Wife” story, but it’s more.

That is the top story. The first layer of the yarn as it weaves across the tapestry. The deeper meaning of the story is “Earth’s Ownership”.  The gradually more troubled waters each time the fisherman came to ask another favour and each time what he wanted was given, without question, but the seas got darker and the transport of ships harder.

It tells us that anything can be bought. That is, apart from the sun and moon, as this would mess with, and possibly make our planet untraversable. The fish symbolism is fairly interesting to argue but essentially, in English society, we do still say ‘He’s a big fish in a little pond’ so perhaps it’s someone important the fisherman came across but there is also the obvious Christian connection to take into account with the fish being it’s well known symbol since 300 AD and of course the pisces symbolism too with fish swimming in both directions.

This story tells us it was a big fish…perhaps it was a whale? They are seen as a symbol of earths great wonders and have many stories written about them including of course Moby Dick but he was standing upon the shore fishing and it is unlikely to have been a whale, unless it was a stranded whale then it would have needed help back into the water. Perhaps it is a carp, again, a significant fish. Other versions of the story may give us more but there may not be more to it.

It is odd that the story doesn’t choose to call her a Queen rather than a king. Europe did have several Queens by the time this story was circulating, according to history. Is there anything to be made of that? Perhaps a little sexist propaganda? The twelve maidens stood near her could offer a clue. And candles as tall as a tower besides the pope imagery and a two yard high crown on the king is thought provoking too…so much detail. Could these things mean anything other than embellishment?

I love folk tales and as I read them with older eyes, they mean more than they initially did. The art of a great story is to stand the test of time and this one does. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did bringing it to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Quite a fun and funny little fable! I enjoyed it very much and of course to me the underlying moral to the story is that we should always be thankful for what we have, and happiness is indeed in the simple life and things! If we start to want and want there is no end to that affliction! During the Great Depression of that last century by those who lived through it, I was told that many folks coined that phrase of making due! I think is pleasing “to make do” with the things we (you) have and that will motivate us to not waste or to more importantly look at the true value or intrinsic qualities of every little thing more carefully and see the preciousness within, then too we can fully appreciate and enjoy the abundance around us.

    Liked by 1 person

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