Stream of Consciousness and Symbolism Found in t The Fisherman Mourned by His Wife by Patric Fernando.


In this post we are going to discuss two major literary devices used in the poem: The fisherman mourned by his wife by Patric Fernando. They are: stream of consciousness and symbolism.

Fernando as a poet who practised to write about life in general has used a common reality of life in Sri Lankan coastal areas. That is the conflict between man and nature. His common thematic addressing of love, transience of life and death is also apparent in this poem.

Read the full analysis of The fisherman mourned by his wife here.

He utilizes a unique scene of fishermen’s community to address above themes. He unveils a series of issues related to their community through a death of a fisherman and the retrospection of his wife. Poet uses stream of consciousness to voice the wife and through symbols unique to the region, with local colourings, poet reveals some spoken and unspoken realities related to the lives of their community.

First, let us discuss what is the meaning of stream of consciousness and how effectively Fernando has used it to voice the retrospection of the wife of the fisherman.

Stream of consciousness is a literary technique which was pioneered by Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Wolf and James Joyce. Stream of consciousness is characterized by a flow of thoughts and images which may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion. The plot may weave in and out of time and place, carrying the reader through the life span of a character.

For an example in Eveline by James Joyce, the main character Eveline is at the verge of taking one of her life changing decisions: to elope with Frank whom is the lover of her. In that present moment, she recaps the whole life of her from childhood up to the present moment. Here, her thoughts do not flow in a chronological or coherent manner. It is difficult for a reader to notice the time frame of her incidents she unveils as she narrates them as fragments.

This is the nature of memory. If memory is a stream, it flows through different directions and retains only some important things which may have no connection to each other. However, through those fragments of memory, reader can generate a bigger picture guessing and making hypothesises of the story.

In the poem, Fernando uses the first person narration of the wife in an interesting way. He uses narration parallel to the present moment. During her speech about her past life, she constantly come back to the present. This reminds the reader that they are reading an elegy not a mere retrospection of the wife’s happy life.

During the narration, she first reveals the happy moments of their marriage and in the next moment she confesses how their marriage happened without their consent as an arranged marriage. At the same time, she reveals the dreadful memories of their first wedding night and how they subsequently excavated happiness as a complete family.

Her narration reveals only some important moments in her life. At the end of the poem, the reader finds that she has a bigger family and had spent a long period of a good family life which we cannot guess. Further, she does not reveal what had really happened to her young husband. We only wee the life story of them through the fragments of moments in the memory of fisherman’s wife. However, it does not puzzle the reader as writer tactfully brings and binds the reader to the present moment reminding this is about the funeral of the fisherman which is the reality to behold. So, we can see how effectively and in a novel way the poet uses stream of consciousness to reveal several issues related to the lives of fishermen.

Our next task is to analyse the symbols in the poem. What is a symbol? A symbol is an object that stands for itself and a greater idea. It creates a direct and meaningful link between a specific object, scene, character or an action. It may be an abstract idea, value or way of life too. For example: the rose is considered as the symbol of love for it has the physical perfection as well as a deeper connection to a deep and perfect love in Greek Mythology.

In the poem the fisherman mourned by his wife, we find some symbols related to the fishing community and they too are of local colouring which is very close to Sri Lankans. To get the actual sense, a reader will have to understand about the symbol well. Though we find only few symbols in the poem, they carry a greater message about the relationship between the fisherman and the wife and their family as well as the life of the wife before and after the death of the fisherman.

The first symbol which the reader find is the ‘gull’. It is used in the poem to compare the fisherman’s actions:

“… then would you come hot with continence upon these

chaste as a gull flying pointed home, in haste to be with me!

Gull is used to symbolize the behaviour of young fisherman who is full of youthful vigour and lust - and heading towards the house quickly after his routing of fishing. Here, the gull is used to show the intimacy and close relationship between the fisherman and the wife: Gulls are considered as very loyal and truthful lovers who mate only with one partner till their death.

On the other hand, though gull is a sea bird, it always lives and nestles near the shore. Using a gull, the poet may show the relationship and the attachment of the fisherman towards his family and home. The other factor should be to show the swiftness of his actions to go and see his fresh wife; as we all know gull is a swift bird with quicker movement. Therefore, the use of a symbol to attribute a load of meaning to the poem is clearly evident through the symbol of the gull.

The other interesting symbol in the poem is the flamboyant tree. It is a seasonal flowering tree with orange-red flowers. During the flowering season the tree is covered with beautiful flowers and it is an enchanting sight to see. In Sri Lanka the flowering season of the tree is May. Therefore, people call it by the name of the moth as ‘May.’

In the first part of her flashback, she explains that their flamboyant is torn apart by wind and subsequently, in a positive sense, she says how new flower buds have appeared in the same tree. She compares these flower buds to the child born to them.

“When in our wind-torn flamboyant

new buds broke, I was with a child.”

Poet symbolizes flamboyant tree to their family life which experiences seasonal happiness which is too controlled by natural forces. During the time the poem was written, there was no advanced technology involved in fishing industry. They could go into the sea only when there is a favourable weather. When there is monsoon, they have to stay at home. She explains that it had been a time of happiness for newly married two to build a fresh mutual relationship. However, this period of time had affected them financially as they lost their livelihood. It definitely had affected their family which torn apart their life. Though how hard their lives are, people consider children as a fortune to their life. Therefore, ‘new buds broke’ means, symbolically new hopes and happiness lurking into their life of misery.

In the latter part of the poem, the wife speaks to the reader about the present state of their family as:

“Once again the flamboyant is torn…”

However, in this time there is no buds to be seen. It shows that the graveness of her future life without a husband. Her life is at a stake with the responsibility of her children. In such community in Sri Lanka, it is believed that it was quite hard for a woman to lead a solitary life. Through this single statement with the symbol, poet brings out a serious issue related to the lives of fishing community here.

Patric Fernando has masterfully used the two symbols with local colours and the poetic technique of stream of consciousness to wrap-up a broader theme of changing nature of human lives. His effort has been a proven success gaining the recognition from the most parts of the world.  

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