Human and fish insult each other's species


"The Fish, the Man, and the Spirit" is by Leigh Hunt. It was published in 1836.

To a Fish:

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be,–
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste:–

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?

A Fish answers:

Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
For ever stare! O flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finned, haired, upright, unwet, slow!

O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.

The Fish Turns Into a Man, and Then Into a
Spirit, and Again Speaks:

Indulge thy smiling scorn, if smiling still,

O man! and loathe, but with a sort of love;

For difference must its use by difference prove,

And, in sweet clang, the spheres with music fill.

One of the spirits am I, that at his will

Live in whate'er has life — fish, eagle, dove —

No hate, no pride, beneath nought, nor above,

A visitor of the rounds of God's sweet skill.

Man's life is warm, glad, sad, 'twixt loves and graves,

Boundless in hope, honored with pangs austere,

Heaven-gazing; and his angel-wings he craves:

The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,

A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,

Quickened with touches of transporting fear.