Analysis of The Fisherman Mourned by his wife by Patrick Fernando

Patrick Fernando (1931 -1983) - a Sri Lankan poet who won international recognition – is considered as one of the accomplished poets in Sri Lanka writing in English. Patrick Fernando presents in the poem a young wife’s lament - her thoughts and feeling upon the unexpected of her husband. Through the wife’s memories at the death bed of her husband, the poet reveals that the life-style the couple experienced, their love, marriage, sex, and children. 

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Title: Passive structure shows the death (passivity) of the fishermen and the wife who is left behind (sent to the back of the title), and is lamenting over.

Theme: Uncertainty of fishermen’s lives, impermanence of life

Narration: First person (like a soliloquy, sharing an experience with audience who are sitting near her.)

Rhyme Scheme: Same pattern of alternating every other line. ( ABABCDED, ABABCDCE…etc)

Structure: The lines in each stanza decrease in number as the poem proceeds (May be showing how she pulls herself together understanding about the reality), a well-structured poem with local colorings. (Sri Lankan)

Form: elegy (a poem of serious reflection, a lament for the dead)

Major Technique/s: Flashback and stream of consciousness (flow of thought and images, which may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion)


Deep-End Analysis:

When you were not quite thirty and the sun

had not yet tanned you into old-boat brown,

when you were not quite thirty and had not begun

to be embittered like the rest, nor grown

obsessed with death, then would you come

hot with continence upon the sea

chaste as a gull flying pointed home,

in haste to be with me!


Rhyme Scheme: ABABCDED

Repetition: you were not quite thirty (shows that both of them were quite young when they were married)

Personification: sun had not yet tanned (life has not yet begun to treat him bad)

Symbol: gull (a genuine family bird who mates with only one partner), a symbol related to the sea and common fishing villages.

Visual imagery: old boat brown, a gull flying pointed home


The wife recalls her sweet memories of their youthful marriage – showing how her young and fresh husband whose desires has not dried comes to her as quickly as a gull after his day of fishing in the sea. This further reveals another reality in fishing villages, young boys and girls get married before they actually grow as matured men and women and though young and immature, they have to work to earn bread and wine for their families.


Now that. being dead, you are beyond detection,

and need not be discreet I confess

it was not love that married us nor affection

but elders' persuasion, not even loneliness.

Recall how first you were so impatient and afraid

my eyes were open in the dark unlike in love,

trembling, lest in fear, you'd let me go a maid,

trembling on the other hand for my virginity.


Rhyme scheme: ABABCDCE

Smile: My eyes were open in the dark unlike in love


The way narration shifts from stream of consciousness to present reality, reminds the reader that this is not about the sweet memories of her family life but the funeral of the fisherman. Again, through the words of the wife, the poet unveils an another reality of fishing villages. It is elders that arrange marriages of young men and women but they find it hard to adopt to the novel change of their lives due to their immaturity or lack of knowledge on how to manage a family life.  


Three months the monsoon thrashed the sea, and you

remained at home; the sky cracked like a shell

in thunder, and the rain broke through.

At last when pouring ceased and storm winds fell,

when gulls returned new-plumed and wild

when in our wind-torn flamboyant

new buds broke, I was with child.


Rhyme Scheme: ABABCDC

Extended metaphor: stanza is itself a description of the budding of a passionate love between the fisherman and the wife

Pathetic fallacy: (attributing human emotions to nature) The sky cracked like a shell in thunder, and rain broke through – it might show their outbreak of emotions and starting of a new leaf of life. After they have sailed through the sea of emotions, the both have harvested the love as a family and the fruit of their love, a child.

Personification: Monsoon thrashed the sea (implies a storm)

Simile: sky cracked like a shell (local coloring is found here)

Symbol: flamboyant (seasonal flowering tree- during the season of May, the tree is covered with beautiful red flowers) This flamboyant tree symbolizes their family life.

Auditory imagery: sky cracked like a shell

Visual imagery: wind-torn flamboyant, sky cracked like a shell... and the rain broke through.


This stanza unwraps an another passage of their life, though they married without any mutual relationship, in the course of time, they get settled as a family. The youthful force of their love is attributed to the natural elements like sea, thunder and rain. On the other hand, this passage shows another reality of the lives of fishermen: the effects of nature on their lives: the ‘wind-torn flamboyant’ might show the effect of monsoon weather to their family income and providing hope and burden together, children are born into their families. Thought they do not consider them as a burden, the increased number of members to the family affects the income of the family.


My face was wan while telling you and voice fell low,

and you seemed full of guilt and not to know

whether to repent or rejoice over the situation.

You nodded at the ground and went to sea.

But soon I was to you more than God or temptation,

and so were you to me.


Simile: I was to you more than God or temptation (temptation of life or the glory of god)


This reveals the burden of responsibility as new parents. Their reaction suggests that they have not expected a child or they are totally unaware of this reality of the family life as they are quite immature. In the same stanza, it shows how quickly they get matured into a man and woman and start reaping happiness as a family.


Men come and go, some say they understand,

our children weep, the youngest thinks you're fast asleep:

theirs is fear and wonderment.

You had grown so familiar as my hand

that I cannot with simple grief

assuage dismemberment.


Kinesthetic imagery: men come and go

Simile: You had grown so familiar as my hand (local coloring – shows the depth of her loss)


In this stanza, the reader again returns to scene of the funeral, the present reality. By this time of narration, the number of children is increased showing the time lapse.  Further, the wife reveals the depth of love they shared and her inability to believe her husband’s untimely death. This small stanza quickly wraps up the present predicament of the wife - the uncertainty of her future; as well as the uncertainty of life of fishermen. (We can extend this to common world too.)


Outside the wind despoils of leaf

trees that it used to nurse;

once more the flamboyant is torn

the sky cracks like a shell again,

so someone practical has gone

to make them bring the hearse

before the rain


Symbolic: wind despoiling the leaves that it used to nurse (He protection of life blows away with the departure of the husband) Flamboyant is torn (her family is torn apart)

Repetition: sky cracks like a shell, flamboyant is torn

Kinesthetic imagery: wind despoils of leaf

Personification: wind despoils of leaf

Pathetic fallacy: sky cracks / rain is to come (her emotional surge/hard period of life is going to begin)


Again the nature is used to imply that her life is going through a new leaf of life. This time it is without her husband, to take care her children and continue her life. It is implied that her life is not going to be an easy one in the context of a society like a fishing community. (it is the common belief in Sri Lanka that It is hard for a woman to live alone)

Although the poem is about a death of a fisherman, through it the poet reveals a profile of a socio-economical crisis of fishermen and their lives of uncertainty which should be addressed by ruling parties.

Further the poem is a blend of reality and philosophy which reveals the universal truth of impermanence of life and the consequences of a departure of a loved (and the bread winner) one on others who depended on him. Therefore, the poem does not merely carry a specific incident in Sri Lankan fishing village but a theme that extends to the society, life and beyond.


Hope you have grabbed the gist of the poem. If you have things to add or to be edited. Please comment below. Please do share this using the social sharing buttons below. If you want to get the latest post into your mail-box, subscribe to our blog. We never use your e-mail address for any promotional purposes nor for e-mail marketing.




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  1. By reading these literature reviewso I got so many things to my research.So thank you very much 😊

    1. My pleasure. I am glad to be a service to you.

  2. Thank you very much.. very useful as a self learner........

    1. Looking forward to provide complete analysis on the syllabus, so, keep in touch.

  3. Thank you so much! it was very helpful

  4. Thank you so much.can you tell me the idiomatic expressions of this poem

  5. thank you so is very useful for me.

  6. Thank u.. It is really really valuable

  7. Review has been commented so orderly thanks

  8. need the analysis of the poem AN INTRODUCTION by Kamala Das

  9. hope to publish it soon. stay with us.