In The Gulf Of Mexico...
He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he
could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching
ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were
building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw
a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over
the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man
was ever alone on the sea.
He thought of how some men feared being out of sight of land in
a small boar and knew they were right in the months of sudden
bad weather. But now they were in hurricane months and, when there
are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane months is
the best of all the year.
If there is a hurricane you always see the signs of it in the
sky for days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore
because they do not know what to look for, he thought. The land
must make a difference too, in the shape of the clouds. But we
have no hurricane coming now.
He looked at the sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly
piles of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of the
cirrus against the high September sky.
"Light brisa," he said. "Better weather for me
than for you, fish."
His left hand was still cramped, but he was unknotting it slowly.
I hate a cramp, he thought. It is a treachery of one's own body.
It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine
poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as
a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.
If the boy were here he could rub it for me and loosen it down
from the forearm, he thought. But it will loosen up.
Then, with his right hand he felt the difference in the pull of
the line before he saw the slant change in the water. Then, as
he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand hard and
fast against his thigh he saw the line slanting slowly upward.
"He's coming up," he said. "Come on hand. Please
The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the
ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came
out unendingly and water poured from his sides.
He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple
and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light
lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered
like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then
re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the
great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced
to race out.
"He is two feet longer than the skiff," the old man
said. The line was going out fast but steadily and the fish was
not panicked. The old man was trying with both hands to keep the
line just inside of breaking strength. He knew that if he could
not slow the fish with a steady pressure the fish could take out
all the line and break it.
He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must
never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made
his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until
something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as
we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.
The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed
more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size
in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land,
he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger
than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight
as the gripped claws of an eagle.
It will uncramp though, he thought. Surely it will uncramp to
help my right hand. There are three things that are brothers:
the fish and my two hands. It must uncramp. It is unworthy of
it to be cramped. The fish had slowed again and was going at his
I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost
as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought.
I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would
see the cramped hand. Let him think I am more man than I am and
I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything
he has against only my will and my intelligence.
He settled comfortably against the wood and took his suffering
as it came and the fish swam steadily and the boat moved slowly
through the dark water. There was a small sea rising with the
wind coming up from the east and at noon the old man's left hand
"Bad news for you, fish," he said and shifted the line
over the sacks that covered his shoulders.
He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the
suffering at all.
from Ernest Hemingway's final
novel, The Old Man And The Sea,
for which he won the Nobel Prize
for Literature. It was written based on the author's experiences
in Key West and outside Havana, Cuba, getting to know the great
Gulf of Mexico as well as he had previously known the northern
parts of Michigan, the savannahs of Africa, the vast lands of
the Great Plains. Heavens forbid what the man, who died of his
own hand not long after this work's success, would have thought
devastation being caused by
the BP oil spill continuing in
the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana. May our hearts reach out.
lessons be finally learned...