Saturday, August 4, 2012


The Tale of the 
Fisherman and His Wife


By the very edge of the blue sea lived an old man and his old woman. For three and thirty years they had lived in a tumbledown hut made of mud.  The old man caught fish in his fishing net; the old woman span with her spinning wheel.
One day the old man cast his net and all he caught in his net was slime. The old man cast his net a second time and all he caught in his net was weed. A third time the old man cast his net and what he found in his net was a fish no ordinary fish, but a large golden fish.

The fish begged, the fish begged and implored; the fish prayed in a human voice: 'Release me, set me free in the sea  and in return you'll receive a grand ransom, I'll grant you whatever you wish.'
The old man was amazed and frightened.  Three and thirty years he had fished  and not once had he heard a fish talk.
He returned the fish to the water, saying gently as he let her go free, 'God be with you, golden fish! I don't need your grand ransom. Off you go into the deep blue sea! Swim free, swim where you wish!'
The old man went back to his old woman and told her of this great wonder: 'Today I caught a fish in my net  no ordinary fish, but a golden fish. The fish spoke, she spoke in our tongue; she begged to go home, into the blue sea. She promised me a splendid ransom; she said she would grant whatever I wished. But I didn't dare take this ransom. I set her free in the deep blue sea.'
The old woman scolded her old man: 'Simple fool, fool of a simpleton! What stopped you taking this ransom? A mere fish and you were too frightened! You could at least have got a new washtub. Ours is cracked right down the middle.'
Off he went towards the blue sea. (The blue sea looked a little troubled.) He called out to the golden fish and the fish swam up and asked him, 'What is it, old man, what do you want?'
The old man bowed to the fish and said, 'Have mercy on me, Sovereign Fish. My old woman is cursing and scolding me. Though I am old, she gives me no peace. She needs a new washtub, she says. Ours is cracked right down the middle.' 
The golden fish replied straightaway, 'Take heart and God be with you! Outside your hut you'll find a new washtub!'
The old man went back to his old woman. His old woman now had a new washtub, but she was cursing more fiercely than ever: 'Simple fool, fool of a simpleton, all you got from the fish was a washtub. What wealth can be found in a washtub?  Get on back, you fool, to the fish. Bow down to the fish and say you want a handsome house built of wood.'
Off he went towards the blue sea. (The blue sea was a little rough.) He called out to the golden fish and the fish swam up and asked him, 'What is it, old man, what do you want?'
The old man bowed to the fish and said, 'Have mercy on me, Sovereign Fish. My old woman is cursing and raging. Though I am old, she gives me no peace. She wants a handsome house built of wood.'
The golden fish replied straightaway, 'Take heart and God be with you! You shall have your house built of wood.'


The old man set off for his hut, but not a trace of his hut could he find. In its place stood a house built of wood with a whitewashed brick chimney and two strong gates hewn from oak. Sitting by the window was his old woman, swearing at him for all she was worth:
'Simple fool, fool of a simpleton, all you got from the fish was a house. Get on back, you fool, to the fish. I don't want to be a lowly peasant. I want to be a noble lady.'

Off he went towards the blue sea. (The blue sea was not calm.) He called out to the golden fish and the fish swam up and asked him, 'What is it, old man, what do you want?'
The old man bowed to the fish and said, 'Have mercy on me, Sovereign Fish. My old woman is shouting and swearing, cursing me for all she is worth. Though I am old, she gives me no peace. She doesn't want to be a lowly peasant. She wants to be a noble lady.' The golden fish replied straightaway, 'Take heart and God be with you!'

The old man went back to his old woman and saw? He saw a tall mansion. His old woman was standing there in the porch. She was wearing a splendid 'soul-warmer'  a precious waistcoat trimmed with sable. On her head was a brocade head-dress; round her neck hung heavy pearls and gold rings encircled her fingers. On her feet were fine red boots and before her stood zealous servants; she was slapping them and pulling their hair.
The old man said to his old woman, 'Good day, Lady Countess Baroness! I hope you've got all you want now!' The old woman flew at her husband and packed him off to work in the stables.
A week passed, and another week. The old woman grew madder than ever. She sent her old man back to the fish: 'Go back to the fish, bow low and say I don't want to be a fine lady  I want to be a mighty queen.'
The old man took fright. He implored her: 'What's got into you, woman? Are you crazy? Have you been eating black henbane? You don't know how to walk like a queen. You don't know how to talk like a queen. You'll be the laughingstock of your kingdom.'
The old woman flew into a fury. She struck her husband across the cheek: 'How dare you, peasant, answer me back? How dare you talk like that to a lady? Back you go again to the sea or, upon my word, You'll be dragged there against your will.'

Off he went towards the blue sea. (The blue sea was blacker than black.) He called out to the golden fish and the fish swam up and asked him, 'What is it, old man, what do you want?'
The old man bowed to the fish and said, 'Have mercy on me, Sovereign Fish. My old woman is raging again. She doesn't want to be a fine lady. She wants to be a mighty queen.'
The golden fish replied straightaway, 'Take heart and God be with you! Your old woman shall be a queen.'
The old man went back to his old woman. Before him stands a splendid palace and his old woman is there in the hall. She is a queen sitting at table. Nobles are standing and waiting on her, pouring her wines from over the seas while she nibbles on honeycakes. All around stand fierce-looking guards with sharp axes poised on their shoulders‚
The old man was frightened. He bowed to the ground and said, 'Greetings, O dread Queen, and I hope you've got all you want now!'
The old woman didn't look at him; she just ordered him out of her sight, and her nobles and courtiers came running and shoved the old man towards the door; and the guards ran up with their axes and all-but hacked him to pieces, and everyone laughed at the old man: 'Serves you right, you ignorant lout! Let this be a lesson to you, bumpkin! Don't get too big for your boots or sit in another man's sleigh!'

A week passed, and another week. The old woman grew madder than ever. She sent her courtiers to fetch her husband. They found him and brought him before her and the old woman said to her old man, 'Go back, bow down to the fish. I don't want to be a mighty queen, I want to be a sea empress; I want to live in the Ocean-Sea with the golden fish as my servant to bring me whatever I ask for.'
The old man did not dare say a word; he was too frightened to open his mouth. Off he went towards the blue sea. Raging there was a black storm! Waves were flinging up spray; angry waves were crashing and howling. He called out to the golden fish and the fish swam up and asked him,
'What is it, old man, what do you need?' The old man bowed to the fish and said, 'Have mercy on me, Sovereign Fish! What am I to do with the wretched woman? She no longer wants to be a queen, she wants to be a sea empress. She wants to live in the Ocean-Sea with you as her faithful servant to bring her whatever she asks for.'
Not a word did the fish reply. She just slapped her tail on the water and dived deep into the blue sea.
The old man waited and waited, but that was all the answer he got. He went back to a hut made of mud. His old woman was sitting outside it; And before her lay a broken washtub.


The End

24 comments:

  1. There is no limit to human wants, the real mistake is interpret these wants as "needs".

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  2. ...of course in order for needs to be truly "satisfied", the source of satisfaction must originate within one's own self.

    The world is will to power, and nothing besides. And you, too, are this will to power... - Nietzsche

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  3. Exactly right, Thersites.

    Once again you demonstrate your understanding of the language of parable, parallel and symbolism. I was hoping someone would come along an start this thread off in the right direction.

    I disagree with Niezsche's assertion in one important detail, however. Since "power" is something of a dirty word, I much prefer to think of the nearly universal urge or impulse as "The Will to Fulfillment."

    We can only discover and implement the potential power within us by realizing a determined goal to conquer Self and develop our talents and learning capacity to the maximum.

    When we try to satisfy our true needs by defeating OTHERS or merely acquiring POSSESSIONS, we are doomed to the kind of failure we see in the old Fisherman's selfish, shrewish, greedy, madly acquisitive wife.

    In one version of this ancient tale her final demand was to be made Lord of All Creation.

    I tried in vain to find this version online, because I think it describes even more plainly and tellingly the fatally flawed nature of the old virago.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  4. beautiful presentation, free thinker. where do you get your illustrations? There just fantastic.

    James

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  5. I remember my mother reading this story when I was a little girl.

    Yep, I got the message.

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  6. Thank you, James. It's pretty easy to find all sorts of great pictures on the net if you know what you're looking for. I agree these are really beautiful = except for the hideous old woman, of course. Isn't she a beauty?

    ~ FT

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  7. Yes, AOW! I too have known the story all my life.

    What I hope people will see in it, is that political activism -- petitioning the government first for a redress of grievances (legitimate) and then for more and more free and ever more extravagant goodies based on exaggerated claims of victim status (illegitimate) is -- like the nasty old woman's vicious greed -- ultimately SELF-DEFEATING.

    Keep on demanding too much of life, and sooner or later "Life" is bound to give you a good, swift kick in the shins to knock you back down to size.

    ~ FT

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  8. Since parents can no longer read, children no longer hear these stories and learn from them. That's how we end up with a broken society.

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  9. That's a very good point, Sam.

    Do you blame the emergence of the Personal Computer and the Internet for declining literacy and lack of interest in reading, or is it rooted in TV?

    Way way back when motion pictures were still in their infancy, one of Alistair Cooke's schoolmasters admonished is boys for spending too much of their free time "rotting your minds at the cinema."

    Mr. Cooke made the charming anecdote more quaintly memorable and humorous by pronouncing "cinema" as "Ky-NEE-ma" in the classical Greek fashion as his teacher had done.

    It's been a century of relentless Decline and Fall since "Ky-NEE-ma" went first to "SIN-uh-muh," then to "The Movies," then to "Films" then to "Flicks," "Chick Flix" and finally to "Porn."

    Like the Old Woman in the story we have gotten greedier and greedier for more and more "entertainment," till finally what we have developed with this Insatiable Lust for Distraction from Reality and Avoidance of Responsibility is a worthless, insipid, utterly trivial, morally bankrupt, mentally enfeebling WASTE of LIFE.

    Yes we have, and it's a TRAGEDY for CIVILIZATION!

    "... This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang, but a whimper."


    ~ FT

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  10. "To learn how to find the poetic in all that is banal."

    Relative to the subject of cinema, Chris Marker died the other day.

    The possibilities of being a visual essayist virtually trace to him although he was virtually unknown in the mall film world,

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  11. Since power is something of a dirty word ...

    All dreams are wish fullfillments." - Sigmund Freud

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  12. Puting "will" behind dreams... sounds like an"existential" argument. ;)

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  13. During an interview years ago, Jack Benny remarked how radio programs demanded listener participation. They had to use their imagination to form mental pictures of the sound of someone walking across an old wooden floor, the close of a door, the sound of someone taking a knife out of a draw, and the clippity clop sound of a horse cantering. Benny noted that in contrast to this, people watching television and cinema only need to sit slack-jawed as someone else provides the stimuli.

    I remember all sorts of clever ploys used to help uplift the average Joe. Back in the 40s, animators exposed citizens to classical music —The Marriage of Figaro being a popular example at Warner Brothers studios. I remember “Classic Comics,” through which nearly illiterate people could be exposed to western classics. These comics don’t exist any longer. Consequently, many marginalized Hispanic children (and others) grow up without having had any exposure to the morals from The Song of Roland, Cantar de Mio Cid, or Ivanhoe. This glue that binds society and helps to define culture no longer exists. Plus, reading is no longer an enjoyment in this country; it has become something to be endured.

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  14. Where did you get that picture of my ex-wife?

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  15. Jack Benny was a man of many parts, Mustang, and an all around good guy. I remember his radio show very well. Bob Hope's also -- and many others.

    I still miss radio -- as it was in the halcyon days before TV took over the culture and practically turned us into programmed robots.

    But reading aloud for pleasure was a BIG thing in my family -- a major source of entertainment -- and I remember it being more enthralling than any other thing that happened in my very young years.

    I was reading all by myself by age four. I can't really remember NOT knowing how to read. I actually plowed through Oliver Twist and David Copperfield before I entered school. Don't ask me how. I was fiercely ambitious to do what the grown ups did, and God bless them, they never discouraged me.

    Well, I had wonderful parents, and one of my aunts was an elementary school principal, and one of my older cousins was a pre-Doctor Spock child psychologist, so I have to say I was very lucky.

    This latter day nonsense about books having to be "age appropriate" has done lots of damage, although I read all the Hardy boy books with relish and greatly enjoyed Albert Payson Terhune's dog stories, and Misty of Chincoteague.

    I'm not going to cluck my tongue, and say, "Isn't it dreadful the way things are nowadays?" but I have to admit I'm sorely tempted. ;-)

    So glad to see you here, Mustang. It's an honor.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  16. Hello, Robert,

    I thought that was a picture of EVERYMAN's ex-wife.

    It took me over an hour to locate that image, and it's still not exactly what I had in mind for the Old Wife, but it serves the purpose pretty well, even so.

    A raving, screaming, greedy, selfish, lunatic bitch is what she is.

    Even Margaret Hamlton in the Wizard of Oz wasn't hideous enough for this story.

    Thanks for stopping by. Please come again.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  17. Do you blame the emergence of the Personal Computer and the Internet for declining literacy and lack of interest in reading, or is it rooted in TV?

    I think there are a number of things that compete today for the attention of our young people. Yes, television, films, computers, cell phones with ten million applications —all of these conspire to convince young people (through the age of 40), that they don’t have the time to read.

    But there is an even more serious problem than that … how many families share their evening meal these days? If we cannot even sit down as a family with our children (or aging parents), don’t expect anyone to have the time to read to their children (or aging parents).

    Are the children getting on your nerves? Just plop them down in front of a TV and start the DVD. Are your aging parents getting on your nerves? Just send them off to a bone factory where they can die and you don’t have to watch it. We are a sorry society.

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  18. Technology has taken most of the charm, romance, fascination, lyricism, spontaneity and joy out of life, Sam.

    When I remember how things used to be -- memory is often aided, enhanced and reinforced by old films, classical music, favorite books and poems, and the beautiful house i am privileged to own house filled with cherished family antiques and treasured memorabilia -- anyway when I think of the high quality of daily life and the wholesome amiability we enjoyed in family and social life compared to the relative coldness, sterility and pointedly plebeian atmosphere we must coexist with today, I could cry, but never do, because there's nothing to be gained by giving way to sorrow and self pity.

    Thank God for memory, reason, skill and the blessed artifacts that reman with me.

    I'm awfully glad I am not young today. We are leaving our children and grandchildren a terrible legacy. I feel so sorry for them.

    ~ FT

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  19. It's hard to argue over charm, joy, lyricism and the rest but one thing technology has definitely contributed towards is spontaneity.

    Are you involved with any children? I reckon kids are getting all kinds of upbringings, some better than others, as it always was. I'm sure your upbringing was rich, varied and proper, but was it representative of your era?

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  20. PART ONE

    "It's hard to argue over charm, joy, lyricism and the rest but one thing technology has definitely contributed towards is spontaneity."

    I disagree in the sense that "everyone" now feels he must be "plugged in" to something artificial -- downright inhuman -- in order to relate to others. This is destroying family life, romance, intimacy, appreciation of the natural world, and keeping people physically isolated from one another.


    "Are you involved with any children? I reckon kids are getting all kinds of upbringings, some better than others, as it always was. I'm sure your upbringing was rich, varied and proper, but was it representative of your era?"


    I taught for twenty years with considerable success, but left the field when increasing charges of "Child Molestation" were destroying perfectly innocent lives. The world has moved in a direction that makes sitting ducks of teachers, therapists, doctors, lab technicians and supervisors. Children -- and underlings -- have been handed a weapon more dangerous than a loaded gun. The merest hint of an accusation of "impropriety" can destroy your life. Children are VERY quick to pick up an understanding that they have been put in the Driver's Seat, and are free to run you down and grind you into the pavement (metaphorically, of course) if they don't like you, or don't want to do an assignment, or just to amuse their dear little selves.

    The McMartin Case settled that for me, so out I went. Besides, discipline problems were growing steadily worse, because administrators hadn't the balls to back you up when disciplinary measure were called for. The exit was entirely voluntary I must add.

    ~ FT

    (CONTINUED)

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  21. PART TWO

    "Liberalism" in the USA has turned the teaching profession into absolute hell -- one of those "inmates running the asylum" situations.

    I have no children of my own, but I have had a small-but-satisfying influence on nieces and nephews and a few of the children of friends.

    As for my upbringing, I'm sure it was typical of my era -- and my strata, which was nothing fancy -- just solid American middle class. My relatives had all come up from poverty, so I had some understanding of "how the other half lives" from the stories they told of the struggles and triumphs of their young years. I've mentioned having had my fiftieth high school class reunion three years ago, and the subsequent delight of renewing and strengthening old ties, etc.

    The one thing that most of us noticed and positively revelled in once we were together again was the joy of hearing English spoken properly by everyone present. In a sense we discovered that you can go home again after all.

    Most of us who had raised children lamented the loss of quality in education. Almost everyone agreed that the instruction and cultural enrichment we received was on a much higher level than than anything their children and grandchildren had been exposed to.

    We more or less agreed that the younger generations are using approximately one-fifth the vocabulary we had acquired by the time we elementary school in 1953.

    Ours was the very first generation ever to be exposed to Television and Rock 'n Roll both of which were in their infancy when we were very young. Most of us agreed these phenomena have had a deleterious influence on succeeding generations.

    I often get the feeling that the young people I see these days are talking an entirely different language from the one I have known and loved all my life. I doubt very much if they understand what I'm saying when I try to communicate anything beyond "Please pass the salt" or "What time do you get up in the morning?" And they do not read for pleasure anymore. I regard that as a great pity.

    Very frankly, I often feel that way here on the blogs.

    It's frustrating and more than a little frightening. As I've said fairly often, I'm glad I won't be around too much longer. Having been made a virtual foreigner in my own country is eerie to say the least. Sometimes it's honestly heartbreaking.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  22. Gee! I hope Jez returns to read the lengthy addition to this now-old post.

    ~ FT

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  23. Hi,
    I've seen this, and I completely appreciate the thing about teachers and molestation charges. I'm not a teacher, but I have looked into it. It's not something anybody in that profession can ignore.
    On the other hand, not many decades ago abused children just wouldn't have had any recourse at all. What's worse, a false positive or a false negative?

    I was interested in this case when it happened about a violent (non-sexual) attack by a teacher on a pupil.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1270063/Peter-Harvey-Moment-science-teacher-attacked-pupil-dumbbell.html
    I was impressed by how understanding the general public were towards the teacher. It goes without saying that his attack was unacceptable, indeed criminal, but in an unusual fit of nuance most people avoided demonising him completely.

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  24. Hi, Jez,

    Thanks for the reply and for your understanding.

    It always seems completely unsatisfactory to me to trade one terrible injustice for another.

    And frankly, I recoil at the orthodox belief that "inappropriate touching" is somehow sufficient grounds for -- literally -- destroying a mature person's life.

    Violent, coercive behavior accompanied with threats of death, etc. is something else, of course, but most of his stuff is trivial or the result of a complete misunderstanding based on lurid speculation and "old wives" takes" -- as I think Dorothy Canfield Fisher's story Sex Education illustrates beautifully.

    You'll have to take my word that I don't have a dog in this hunt, as they say over here, but I DO know two people whose lives were ruined over practically nothing. One of them -- a friend since college days, committed suicide a few years ago because trumped up allegations by a power hungry colleague led to my friend's dismissal after being subjected to a Kangaroo Court-like proceeding on the part of college officials.

    The other -- a fellow I've known since we were both thirteen, spent fifteen years in prison, because he succumbed to the seductive posturing of an underage boy. That man had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard, was married, had a family and a good deal of inherited wealth. He lost it all because of poor judgment. I doubt if he did anyone other than himself (and his poor family) any real harm. Fortunately, his children were grown at the time this terrible thing broke.

    In my view the punishments these days are far too severe for the supposed crime.

    Again, I am NOT talking about violence or coercion, which I believe ought to be placed in a different category.

    And so it goes ...

    Thanks for returning.

    ~ FT



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