Friday, 16 March 2007


Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea-Garden
by Keith Douglas

As a white stone draws down the fish
she on the seafloor of the afternoon
draws down men's glances and their cruel wish
for love. Her red lip on the spoon

slips in a morsel of ice-cream. Her hands
white as a shell, are submarine
fronds sinking with spread fingers, lean
along the table, carmined at the ends.

A cotton magnate, an important fish
with great eyepouches and a golden mouth
through the frail reefs of furniture swims out
and idling, suspended, stays to watch.

A crustacean old man, clamped to his chair
sits near her and might coldly see
her charms through fissures where the eyes should be;
or else his teeth are parted in a stare.

Captain on leave, a lean dark mackerel
lies in the offing, turns himself and looks
through currents of sound.
The flat-eyed flatfish
sucks on a straw, staring from its repose, laxly.

And gallants in shoals swim up and lag
circling and passing near the white attraction;
sometimes pausing, opening a conversation:
fish pause so to nibble or tug.

But now the ice-cream is finished, is
paid for. The fish swim off on business
and she sits alone at the table, a white stone
useless except to a collector, a rich man.


  1. that is a poem.....I have more to say....but my brain is fuzzy at the I will have to come back......but I love the ice cream,,,,,the lookers......and the final man......I need more brain power than I have at 2am to think on this one....


  2. With your permission I am going to post this poem over a rdpoetry along with Fish Camp (yes THAT poem) and see if anyone gets their connections and their differences.......wish me luck......I doubt anyone is reading anymore!!!


  3. This is pretty cool... whowould know all this goes on unseen in the murky depths... and even as predator prtends to not see you, the menu is being written. Heres mine if I can get the Link task right!

  4. Did you find my blog via this poem perchance?

    I did miss the sickle moon (with the whole circle showing) the other night, but so many people told me about it...

    Your blog seems quite interesting, I may hang around and read/watch for a bit...

  5. RDG, No permission needed, the poet, alas, is dead and lies in a war grave cemetery in France, and I have no rights.
    I posted this because of you, and the fish imagery in Fish Camp, the parallels in predator vs prey, and in imagery of acceptance, inevitability?
    I read a critique of this on a teachers website, which seemed to totally miss the men-as -predators image which i feel so strongly from this. Is it just me?
    Steve: Yes, it leads in me to a keener observation of people in the everyday world, watching the circling and hovering... I laughed out loud in the pub, watching almost the same scene play out!
    Deemikay: Yes, it was through wanting to see other responses to this poem that I found your blog, and the eclectic mix of poems there.
    Some familiar but long forgotten, some new to me, really really enjoyed browsing there, I'll be back.
    And the moon? we're all skygazers here.

  6. I had to write a commentary on this peice for my IB English class. It's really a representation of the 1940s society. The "white stone" with the "red lips" and "carmined" nails represents the beautiful pale white women with the red lips of the 40s, while the different types of fish symbolize the type of men there were during that time. The "lean dark makerel" represent the tall, darkk and handsom sailor that was on leave, the "crustacean old man", the one thats just a pleasure seeker, etc. The poem overall represents the importance that they put on beauty over true love in that era, and his use of fish as the characters made a union between the land and sea. How even in nature, animals go for the better looking, better fit mates. It's truly a deep poeml, really great. I hope this cleared up somethings though :)

  7. Anonymous, thank you for your comment, please don't feel offended if I disagree with you. I think getting hung up on 1940s society is a mistake. Undoubtedly, it is a poem of its time, the poet writes about his own world, the world in which he observes, but to see this as a period-piece is to miss the more universal truths within.
    The idea that it refers to a "type of men there were during that time" ignores the fact that those "types" are to be found in our current world, in writings of the seventeenth century, and in the future, I have no doubt, they will still exist, human nature remains similar, whilst our costumes and our speech alter.
    Importance of beauty over true love? Just the same now as ever. Look at the magazines and newspapers whose pages are dominated by pictures of "celebrities", look at their lives.
    As for animals going for fitter, better looking mates, that's debatable too. Fitter, for sure. But who defines "better looking" in the animal kingdom? Many animals, in oestrus, will mate with any other that presents itself.
    In the human context, beauty is valued, but often not quite as much as wealth, celebrity, fame, and power, those factors alone ensure that often the beauties will mate with people who are not deemed conventionally attractive.
    More importantly, to many, an intellectual bond, a calling together of minds is far more important than the outer appearance. The fit mate is not always the good looking one, the fit mate may be the one with the mental ability, or the socio-economic position that ensures the long term advantage of any offspring of the union.
    Finally, might I recommend you observe the people around you in your school. Both students and teaching staff, you'll see the behaviour of fish in an egyptian tea-garden played out every day. All these "types" can be seen there, if you just look,
    See how the beautiful or popular students have rings of hangers on, circling at different distances, willing to assist, desperate to be acknowledged. See how some shrug it off, turn a cold shoulder to the supplicants.
    And I promise you, the same thing is happening in the teacher's lounge.

    IB English class? is that International Baccalaureate? Where are you studying?

  8. In IB Englsih, we alalyze not jsut the meaing of the poem, but the literary devices, the time period, etc, etc. However,yes I am in IB in South Florida.Very hord program, however, it's my last year, so I'm rather excited to get it over with.


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