(Poet's title: Fischerweise)
Set by Schubert:
Schubert did not set the stanza in italics
Den Fischer fechten Sorgen
Und Gram und Leid nicht an,
Er löst am frühen Morgen
Mit leichtem Sinn den Kahn.
Da lagert rings noch Friede
Auf Wald und Flur und Bach,
Er ruft mit seinem Liede
Die goldne Sonne wach.
Und singt zu seinem Werke
Aus voller frischer Brust,
Die Arbeit gibt ihm Stärke,
Die Stärke Lebenslust.
Bald wird ein bunt Gewimmel
In allen Tiefen laut
Und plätschert durch den Himmel,
Der sich im Wasser baut.
Und schlüpft auf glatten Steinen
Und badet sich und schnellt,
Der Große frißt den Kleinen
Wie auf der ganzen Welt.
Doch wer ein Netz will stellen
Braucht Augen klar und gut,
Muss heiter gleich den Wellen
Und frei sein wie die Flut;
Dort angelt auf der Brücke
Die Hirtin – schlauer Wicht,
Gib auf nur deine Tücke,
Den Fisch betrügst du nicht.
The fisherman isn’t disturbed by cares
Or worry or pain;
He sets off early in the morning
Carefree as he releases the boat.
All around him there is still peace
In the woods, fields and river,
He calls out in song
And the golden sun wakes up.
And he sings as he works
From a full, fresh heart.
The work gives him strength
And this strength gives him joy in life.
Soon a bright crowd will be
Heard clearly in the depths
And they splash through the sky
Reflected in the water –
And they slip on smooth stones
And they bathe and shoot about,
The big ones eat up the little ones
As happens everywhere in the world.
But anyone who wants to set a net
Needs good clear eyes;
They have to be as jolly as the waves
And as free as the tide.
Angling there on the bridge is
The shepherdess, cunning little thing,
Give up your trickery.
This is a fish you are not going to trick!
All translations into English that appear on this website, unless otherwise stated, are by Malcolm Wren. You are free to use them on condition that you acknowledge Malcolm Wren as the translator and schubertsong.uk as the source. Unless otherwise stated, the comments and essays that appear after the texts and translations are by Malcolm Wren and are © Copyright.
We usually like the idea of doctors being forced to take a dose of their own medicine. There is something satisfying about inspectors being inspected, about the tables being turned. Dante’s hell is full of people whose punishment consists of the consequences of their particular sin, and so the image of a fisherman being caught like a fish appeals to a very basic sense of justice that most of us accept unthinkingly. However, Schlechta’s fisherman uses his own inner knowledge of trickery to avoid becoming a victim. He can put himself in the position of his fish to avoid their fate.
The text indeed begins with the fisherman as the object not the subject. ‘Den Fischer (accusative) fechten Sorgen und Gram und Leid nicht an’ is a re-ordering of the more usual Subject Verb Object as Object Verb Subject: Sorgen und Gram und Leid fechten den Fischer nicht an (worries and pain do not disturb the fisherman) has become Den Fischer fechten Sorgen und Gram und Leid nicht an. The effect of fronting the object, the fisherman, who is to serve as the subjective voice of the poem, is that the reader is prepared to see him from outside (as perceived and acted upon) as well as from within (as perceiving and acting). We are in a similar position to when we are watching a nature documentary and we become aware that a particular animal is both potential prey and potential predator. Absolute focus on the hunt might be dangerous if other risks are ignored, so the beast needs to keep a look out not to become prey when it is doing its own hunting. A strange process of sympathy develops as we watch nature documentaries, though. We tend to be on the side of one of the animals. In a programme about lions we want the sick baby lions to survive, so we want their parents to catch the antelope. On another occasion we watch a programme about antelopes and are horrified at the behaviour of the pointlessly cruel lions. As we read Schlechta’s poem we are on the side of the fisherman and are expected to sympathise with his own cunning and determination not to be caught.
Just as the fisherman is both subject and object, the process of fishing is both active and passive. His fishing is called work, and it appears to involve genuine activity, yet setting nets seems to be a rather passive form of fishing. The boat appears to go with the flow, so much so that the location is not always apparent – are we on a small river (there is a bridge after all) or in a tidal estuary where large shoals can be caught? Defenders of fishing will insist, though, that this passivity is balanced by action. Walton’s Compleat Angler (1653) argues that both contemplation and action ‘meet together, and do most properly belong to the most honest, ingenuous, quiet, and harmless art of angling.’
Is not such praise of ingenuity disingenuous? Angling is not ‘honest’, but based on trickery and deception. This is the reason why it has taken on the metaphorical meaning that is central to Schlechta’s poem. We think of people angling for favours, muddying the waters, swallowing things hook, line and sinker. ‘You’re not going to catch me like that’, we say, along with Schlechta’s fisherman. This whole set of language is gendered, of course. Women are frequently seen as cunning deceivers, partly because of the conventions which have not allowed them to state their feelings and desires directly. This shepherdess angling on the bridge probably does not have a fishing rod. Men still see themselves as being tricked into commitments or trapped in marriage.
Schlechta’s text uses this conventional gendered discourse, though other poems invert it and see the woman as the fish being caught by a male angler (e.g. Die Forelle, D 550). Just as the poet was concerned to present the fisherman as both subject and object, we should therefore perhaps extend the process and think about the shepherdess not only from the perspective of the fisherman that got away. Why shouldn’t she be on the bridge doing some angling? Why shouldn’t the catcher get caught?
 When Czech people want to say something is too good to be true they say, not ‘there must be a catch’ but ‘there must be some hook’- musí byt nějaký háček
Original Spelling Fischerweise Den Fischer fechten Sorgen Und Gram und Leid nicht an; Er löst am frühen Morgen Mit leichtem Sinn den Kahn. Da lagert rings noch Friede Auf Wald und Flur und Bach, Er ruft mit seinem Liede Die gold'ne Sonne wach. Und singt zu seinem Werke Aus voller frischer Brust, Die Arbeit gibt ihm Stärke, Die Stärke Lebenslust! Bald wird ein bunt Gewimmel In allen Tiefen laut, Und plätschert durch den Himmel, Der sich im Wasser baut - Und schlüpft auf glatten Steinen Und badet sich und schnellt, Der Große frißt den Kleinen Wie auf der ganzen Welt. Doch wer ein Netz will stellen Braucht Augen klar und gut, Muß heiter gleich den Wellen Und frey seyn wie die Fluth; Dort angelt auf der Brücke Die Hirtin - schlauer Wicht, Gib auf nur deine Tücke Den Fisch betrügst du nicht!
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Dichtungen vom Freyherrn Franz von Schlechta. Erster Band. Wien, 1824. Im v. Hirschfeld’schen Verlage, pages 115-116.
Note: Schlechta’s poem was posthumously published again in a substantially revised version with the title Fischerlied in Ephemeren,
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 115 [131 von 290] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ16264200X