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Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Trout Map

(Allen Tate, poet laureate, 1943-1944)


The Management Area of Cherokee
National Forest, interested in fish,
Has mapped Tellico and Bald Rivers
And North River, with the tributaries
Brookshire Branch and Sugar Cove Creek:
A fishy map for facile fishery.

Now consider it: drawn in two
Colors, blue and red-blue for the hue
Of Europe (Tennessee water is green),
Red lines by blue streams to warn
The fancy-fishmen from protected fish;
Black borders hold the Area in a cracked dish.

Other black lines, the dots and dashes, wire
The fisher’s will through classic laurel
Over boar tracks to creamy pot-holes lying
Under Bald falls that thump the buying
Trout: we sold Professor, Brown Hackles, Worms.
Tom Bagley and I were dotted and dashed wills.

Up Green Cove gap from Preacher Millsaps’ cabin
We walked an hour confident of victory,
Went to the west on a trail that led us
To Bald River — here map and scene were one
In scene-identity. Eight trout is the story
In three miles. We came to a rock-bridge

On which the road went left around a hill,
The river, right, tumbled into a cove;
But the map dashed the road along the stream
And we dotted man’s fishiest enthymeme
With jellied feet upon deductive love
Of what eyes see not, that nourishes the will:

We were fishers, weren’t we? And tried to fish
The egoed belly's dry cartograph —
Which made the government fish lie down and laugh.
Tommy and I listened, we heard them shake
Mountains and cove because the map was fake.
After eighteen miles our feet were clownish;

Then darkness took us into wheezing straits
Where coarse Magellan idling with his fates
Ran with the gulls for map around the Horn,
Or wheresoever the mind with tidy scorn
Revisits the world to hear an eagle scream
Vertigo! Mapless, the mountains were a dream.

~ Allen Tate (1899-1979), American poet and essayist

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