Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Big Two Hearted Drivel

The first of two essays.
During the seven years since I've taken up this sport I have at times read about or participated in discussions where Hemingway's essay Big Two Hearted River has come up. Often it is in reverential tones that made me wonder what mysteries were plumbed or revealed in this text. I must admit that I've nodded knowingly even though these essays (yes, there are two of them) were not part of my reading past.

So whilst on vacation in Asheville I picked up a copy of the Hemingway essay tome and read the essays (yes, there are two of them) and when I got to the end I was left wondering what I had just read.

My Cliff Notes (or as the kids today say, SparkNotes) version: A guy got off a train, hiked through the woods, pitched a camp and did some fishing near a campfire.

Is that it?

Now I readily admit I have not reread these essays (ibid) to seek the deeper meaning but that's only because the first pass didn't give me any of the common sign posts of deeper meaning.

Several weeks ago while sitting around a campfire sampling the fruits of the highlands I stated clearly my lack of revelation after reading these essays (ibid) and was pleased to hear that I was not alone.

So, have I just created fly fishing heresy or is everyone else just as clueless about the apparent meaning of these essays?



  1. The fact that those around the fire agreed with you should not give you solace.

    If you'd said that Sponge Bob Square Pants was great cinema, they probably would have agreed.

    I recommend you find some literate friends.

  2. You know, I hadn't considered that. Wise counsel.

  3. It's like the first time I read "The Sun also Rises"...Internal struggle, bull fights, booze...I thought I got it, but realized after talking to a friend that maybe I was off in my analysis. I liked my version better.

    My point is, if you want to understand something you will. Take blogging for instance. If you read a post from someone and then read the comments, you get a pretty good understanding that people interpret things differently (My wife says I like to state the obvious)

    It's kind of like talking about bugs on the stream. Some people (like me), call a mayfly a mayfly....While others call the same mayfly by it's Latin name (kind of jealous of that talent)...It doesn't mean one group is right and one is wrong. Literate or not literate, we both have learned the same thing. Just vocalize it differently.

    ...or something like that :-)

  4. I agree with T.J. and I too will have to give these another read...

  5. Sanders: Well said. I'll still give these a reread. Maybe there's something in there that needs to be stewed.

    Erin: Let me know what you find.

  6. Steve,
    I have not read the essay's you speak of.
    But while watching the campfire video, which I thought was great, perhaps you should have read the essays then.... Meaning,and Understanding.

  7. Brk - I think that's a capital idea.
    Jonny - I'll bring the essays when next we burn wood. We probably need to invite some literate types.

  8. This might help.

    If more blog writers wrote short, clipped, well phrased posts that I can then read into them whatever I want, I would probably read more of those posts. Instead, there are far too many "how to" posts out there.

    "I'm going fly fishing, but first, let me show you in excruciating detail how to tie a fly. Then, when I get on the water, I will give you step by agonizing step commentary on how to cast this fly, mend your line and on and on."

    Same goes with the spinning gear crowd. I recently read a thousand word article on how to set a hook on a smallie. I wanted to poke my eyes out when I was done.

    Please leave something, anything, to the imagination.

  9. Ok...I'm going to re-read this essay tonight. But I really like what Ken G. said, and agree wholeheartedly. Really, blog-posts should be like lingerie. As Ken G. said....please, leave something to the imagination. Little bit of clothing, low light = sexy. Broad daylight, butt naked = not sexy. ;) The writing should leave you wanting more...

  10. Great. Thanks a lot e.m.b. Now I have to edit my broad daylight "Angler's Culvert" post. Damn it.

  11. Ken - Yeah, I get that the story isn't the story. It's just that I also don't find there's much to plumb in those particular essays. According to the website you reference Nick has come back from the war. Okay, that's an important point not picked from the text which provides important context for the story. It would have been nice for some reference to Nick's war service, even an obtuse one, to actually be in the story. That said, it's still not my cup of tea.

  12. Ah T.J., don't let me stop you!

  13. Okay. Reread Part 1. Read it aloud in fact.

    Too much tip, not enough iceberg.

    If you assume that any man in 1925 was in the war then there's lots of metaphor and imagery that you can connect. If you don't assume that then he's returning to something else that has changed and this is his journey through it. I understand that.

    It's a nice fishing trip and is a metaphor in the way that any fishing trip is a journey away from something towards something else. I just don't put it on the bookshelf any higher than other things I've read and lower than a bunch.

    He should have cast to those fish under the bridge.

  14. I re-read last night, and was reminded why I love Hemmingway -- his short sentences. He jerks you to realization of real language, and of real people speaking it. I think there are a lot of metaphors within the story. Yet, just simply read, it is beautiful.

    The part about the grasshoppers being burned - a reflection of the land they are living in - my mind took this and ran away...products of our environment...

    Also, the part where he writes about the tent, making camp "He was in his home where he had made it."

    Good stuff. Deep stuff. But I think the beauty of Hemmingway is that it doesn't have to be intellectual, academic, and talked about over and around to death.

    It just is....good. :)

  15. We get what we want out of everything we read. That's part of the point.
    I have no choice but to look for all the metaphors, that's how I was trained.
    But then, like Freud says, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    Or, as Randy Newman says, you can leave your hat on.

  16. Ken & Erin: Thanks for the thoughtful responses. It is definitely a story worth rereading.

  17. I remember having a discussion once with a friend about a movie (I think...may have been a piece of prose) and I commented that I thought it was trying hard, but failing, to be "deep". He said maybe the problem was that I, myself, just wasn't deep enough to see it.

    I replied that I thought the better explanation was that I was below it, looking down, when I should have been looking up.

  18. I've always been a little mystified by Hemingway. Was he really that good? But then I'm a Theroux fan. I live in Hemingway country and have fished both the Two-Hearted river and the one he was actually writing about, the Fox. I guess dishing on your favorite river was considered uncouth then as well. They are both still excellent rivers.

  19. Apparently, his fished the Fox but liked the name of the Two-Hearted River better. From a literary perspective he made the right choice. The "Big Fox River" just doesn't have the same ring.

  20. Literate types are generally boring or pretentious (or worse, when drunk they're both).

    I think more of Hemmingway than you kids, but apparently not enough to own the stories in question.

    Will there be video of the next bonfire?

  21. I'm not sure any good can come of videos.

  22. I beg to differ - the videos are still with our production team.

    Also: I don't disagree with what folks are saying here about rereading and thinking differently, that some writers appeal to different types etc. Let's also leave room for the probability that even the best writers sometimes (indeed usually) produce complete bilge at some point; and that it's really okay to say so.