He was an old man
who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he
had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In
the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after
forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him
that the old man was now definitely and finally salao,
which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone
at their orders in another boat which caught three good
fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old
man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always
went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or
the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around
the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and,
furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
(Note: The skill of the introduction of the old man
should be noted. He is both in time and timeless. The
numbers mentioned are significant.)
The old man was
thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his
neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer
the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea
were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides
of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars
from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these
scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a
him was old except his eyes and they were the same color
as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the
skiff was hauled up. "I could go with you again. We've
made some money. "
The old man had
taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
"No,” the old man
said. "You're with a lucky boat. Stay with them. "
"But remember how
you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we
caught big ones every day for three weeks. "
"I remember, "the
old man said,"I know you did not leave me because you
"It was papa made
me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him. "
"I know," the old
man said. "It is quite normal. "
"He hasn't much
"No," the old man
said. "But we have. Haven't we?"
"Yes," the boy
said. "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then
we'll take the stuff home. "
"Why not?" the
old man said. "Between fishermen. "
They sat on the
Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old
man and he was not angry. Others, of the older
fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not
show it and they spoke politely about the current and
the depths they had drifted their lines at and the
steady good weather and of what they had seen. The
successful fishermen of that day were already in and had
butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full
across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of
each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the
ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those
who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark
factory on the other side of the cove where they were
hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed,
their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their
flesh cut into strips for salting.
When the wind was
in the east a smell came across the harbor from the
shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge
of the odor because the wind had backed into the north
and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on
"Yes, "the old
man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many
"Can I go out to
get sardines for you for tomorrow?"
" No. Go and play
baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will throw the
" I would like to
go. If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve in
"You bought me a
beer, "the old man said. "You are already a man. "
"How old was I
when you first took me in a boat?"
"Five and you
nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green
and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you
"I can remember
the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking
and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you
throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were
and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you
clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet
blood smell all over me. "
"Can you really
remember that or did I just tell it to you?"
everything from when we first went together. "
The old man
looked at him with his sunburned, confident loving eyes.
"If you were my
boy I'd take you out and gamble,” he said. "But you are
your father's and your mother's and you are in a lucky
"May I get the
sardines? I know where I can get four baits too. "
"I have mine left
from today. I put them in salt in the box. "
"Let me get four
fresh ones. "
"One,” the old
man said. His hope and his confidence had never gone.
But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises.
"Two,” the boy
"Two,” the old
man agreed. "You didn't steal them?"
"I would, "the
boy said. "But I bought these. " 'Thank you,
” the old man said.
He was too simple to wonder when he had attained
humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it
was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true
going to be a good day with this current, "he said.
"Where are you
” the boy
"Far out to come
in when the wind shifts. I want to be out before it is
"I'll try to get
him to work far out,
” the boy
said. "Then if you hook something truly big we can come
to your aid. "
"He does not like
to work too far out. "
"No, "the boy
said. "But I will see something that he cannot see such
as a bird working and get him to come out after dolphin.
"Are his eyes
"He is almost
"It is strange,”
the old man said. "He never went turtle-ing. That is
what kills the eyes. "
"But you went
turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast and your
eyes are good.
"I am a strange
old man. "
"But are you
strong enough now for a truly big fish?"
"I think so. And
there are many tricks. "
"Let us take the
stuff home, "the boy said. "So I can get the cast net
and go after the sardines. "
They picked up
the gear from the boat. The old man carried the mast on
his shoulder and the boy carried the wooden box with the
coiled, hard-braided brown lines, the gaff and the
harpoon with its shaft. The box with the baits was under
the stern of the skiff along with the club that was used
to subdue the big fish when they were brought alongside.
No one would steal from the old man but it was better to
take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was
bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local
people would steal from him, the old man thought that a
gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in
They walked up
the road together to the old man's shack and went in
through its open door. The old man leaned the mast with
its wrapped sail against the wall and the boy put the
box and the other gear beside it. The mast was nearly as
long as the one room of the shack. The shack was made of
the tough bud-shields of the royal palm which are called
guano and in it there was a bed, a table, one chair, and
a place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal. On the
brown walls of the flattened, overlapping leaves of the
sturdy fibered guano there was a picture in color of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus and another of the Virgin of
Cobre. These were relics of his wife. Once there had
been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he
had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see
it and it was on the shelf in the corner under his clean
shirt. (the royal palm: a tall, graceful palm of
southern Florida and Cuba.)
"What do you have
to eat? " the boy asked.
"A pot of yellow
rice with fish. Do you want some?"
"No, I will eat
at home. Do you want me to make the fire?"
"No. I will make
it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold. "
"May I take the
"Of course. "
There was no cast
net and the boy remembered when they had sold it. But
went through this
fiction every day. There was no pot of yellow rice and
fish and the boy knew this too.
"Eighty-five is a
” the old
man said. "How would you like to see me bring one in
that dressed out over a thousand pounds?"
"I'll get the
cast net and go for sardines. Will you sit in the sun in
"Yes. I have
yesterday's paper and I will read the baseball. "
The boy did not
know whether yesterday's paper was a fiction too. But
the old man brought it out from under the bed.
"Perico gave it
to me at the bodega, " he explained. (bodega: a grocery
"I'll be back
when I have the sardines. I'll keep yours and mine
together on ice and we can share them in the morning.
When I come back you can tell me about the baseball.
"(the baseball: The old man supports the Yankees of the
cannot lose. "
"But I fear the
Indians of Cleveland. "
"Have faith in
the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio. " (the
great DiMaggio: Joe DiMaggio, a fisherman’s son,
outfielder with the Yankees from 1936 to 1951.)
"I fear both the
Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.
"Be careful or
you will fear even the Reds of Cincinnati and the White
Sox of Chicago. "
"You study it and
tell me when I come back. "
"Do you think we
should buy a terminal of the lottery with an
eighty-five? Tomorrow is the eighty-fifth day. "(a
terminal of the lottery: Lottery tickets of various
kinds are sold openly in the Caribbean. Perhaps the old
man refers to the last two digits of a longer number.)
"We can do that,
” the boy
said. "But what about the eighty-seven of your great
"It could not
happen twice. Do you think you can find an eighty-five?"
"I can order one.
That's two dollars and a half. Who can we borrow that
"That's easy. I
can always borrow two dollars and a half. "
"I think perhaps
I can too. But I try not to borrow. First you borrow.
Then you beg. "
"Keep warm old
man,” the boy said. "Remember we are in September. "
"The month when
the great fish come,
” the old
man said. "Anyone can be a fisherman in May. "
"I go now for the
sardines, "the boy said. When the boy came back the old
man was asleep in the chair and the sun was down. The
boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it
over the back of the chair and over the old man's
shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful
although very old, and the neck was still strong too and
the creases did not show so much when the old man was
asleep and his head fallen forward. His shirt had been
patched so many times that it was like the sail and the
patches were faded to many different shades by the sun.
The old man's head was very old though and with his eyes
closed there was no life in his face. The newspaper lay
across his knees and the weight of his arm held it there
in the evening breeze. He was barefooted.
The boy left him
there and when he came back the old man was still
"Wake up old man,
” the boy
said and put his hand on one of the old man's knees.
The old man
opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from
a long way away. Then he smiled.
"What have you
got? " he asked.
the boy. "We're going to have supper. "
"I'm not very
"Come on and eat.
You can't fish and not eat. "
” the old
man said getting up and taking the newspaper and folding
it. Then he started to fold the blanket.
"Keep the blanket
” the boy
said. You'll not fish without eating while I'm alive. "
live a long time and take care of yourself, "the old man
said. "What are we eating?"
beans and rice, fried bananas, and some stew. "(black
beans and rice, fried bananas: staple foods of the
The boy had
brought them in a two-decker metal container from the
Terrace . The two sets of knives and forks and spoons
were in his pocket with a paper - napkin wrapped around
"Who gave this to
"I must thank
" I thanked him
already," the boy said. " You don't need to thank him. "
"I'll give him
the belly meat of a big fish,
the old man said . "' Has he done
this for us more than once?"
"I think so. "
"I must give him
something more than the belly meat then. He is very
thoughtful for us. "
"He sent two
"I like the beer
in cans best. "
"I know. But this
is in bottles, Hatuey beer, and I take back the bottles.
"That's very kind
” the old
man said. "Should we eat?"
"I've been asking
” the boy
told him gently. "I have not wished to open the
container until you were ready. "
"I'm ready now,
” the old
man said. "I only needed time to wash. "
Where did you
wash? The boy thought. The village water supply was two
streets down the road. I must have water here for him,
the boy thought, and soap and a good towel. Why am I so
thoughtless? I must get him another shirt and a jacket
for the winter and some sort of shoes and another
blanket. (the village water supply: a community tap or
"Your stew is
excellent, "the old man said.
"Tell me about
the baseball, "The boy asked him.
"In the American
League it is the Yankees as I said, "the old man said
"They lost today,
"the boy told him.
nothing. The great DiMaggio is himself again. "
"They have other
men on the team. "
he makes the difference. In the other league, between
Brooklyn and Philadelphia I must take Brooklyn. But then
I think of Dick Sisler and those great drives in the old
park. "(the other league: the National League, to which
the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies
belonged.)(Dick Sisler: player for Philadelphia from
1948 to 1951 and for other teams before and after these
years(His father, George Sisler, was a well-known player
for St.Louis and Boston.)
nothing ever like them. He hits the longtest ball I have
ever seen. "
"Do you remember
when he used to come to the Terrace? I wanted to take
him fishing but I was too timid to ask him. Then I asked
you to ask him and you were too timid. "
know. It was a great mistake. He might have gone with
us. Then we would have that for all of our lives. "
"I would like to
take the great DiMaggio fishing, "the old man said.
"They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as
poor as we are and would understand. "
Sisler's father was never poor and he, the father, was
playing in the big leagues when he was my age. "
"When I was your
age I was before the mast on a square rigged ship that
ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in
the evening. "
"I know. You told
"Should we talk
about Africa or about baseball?"
” the boy
said. "Tell me about the great John J. McGraw. "He said
Jota for J.(the great John J. McGraw: manager of the New
York Giants from the early 1900 ’s to 1932.)
"He used to come
to the Terrace sometimes too in the older days. But he
was rough and harsh-spoken and difficult when he was
drinking. His mind was on horses as well as baseball. At
least he carried lists of horses at all times in his
pocket and frequently spoke the names of horses on the
" He was a great
manager, " the boy said. " My father thinks he was the
"Because he came
here the most times,
” the old
man said." If Durocher had continued to come here each
year your father would think him the greatest
manager."(Durocher: manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in
the 1940’s and of the New York Giants from 1948 to
"Who is the
greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike
Gonzalez?"(Luque: Adolfo Luque, born in Havana in 1890,
played until 1935 with Boston, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, and
the New York Giants. Mike Gonzalez: manager of the St.
Louis Cardinals, 1938, 1940.)
"I think they are
"And the best
fisherman is you. "
"No. I know
others better. "
"Que va," the boy
said. "There are many good fishermen and some great
ones. But there is only you. "(Que va: A Spanish
exclamation difficult to translate----“What does it
matter?”“What of it?”)
"Thank you. You
make me happy. I hope no fish will come along so great
that he will prove us wrong. "
"There is no such
fish if you are still strong as you say. "
"I may not be as
strong as I think, "the old man said. "But I know many
tricks and I have resolution. "
"You ought to go
to bed now so that you will be fresh in the morning. I
will take the things back to the Terrace. "
"Good night then.
I will wake you in the morning. "
"You're my alarm
” the boy
"Age is my alarm
” the old
man said. "Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have
one longer day?"
"I don't know,”
the boy said. "All I know is that young boys sleep late
and hard. "
"I can remember
it, "the old man said. "I'll waken you in time. "
"I do not like
for him to waken me. It is as though I were inferior. "
"I know. "
"Sleep well old
The boy went out.
They had eaten with no light on the table and the old
man took off his trousers and went to bed in the dark.
He rolled his trousers up to make a pillow, putting the
newspaper inside them. He rolled himself in the blanket
and slept on the other old newspapers that covered the
springs of the bed.
He was asleep in
a short time and he dreamed of Africa when he was a boy
and the long golden beaches and the white beaches, so
white they hurt your eyes, and the high capes and the
great brown mountains. He lived along that coast now
every night and in his dreams he heard the surf roar and
saw the native boats come riding through it. He smelled
the tar and oakum of the deck as he slept and he smelled
the smell of Africa that the land breeze brought at
Usually when he
smelled the land breeze he woke up and dressed to go and
wake the boy. But tonight the smell of the land breeze
came very early and he knew it was too early in his
dream and went on dreaming to see the white peaks of the
Islands rising from the sea and then he dreamed of the
different harbors and roadsteads of the Canary Islands.
He no longer
dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great
occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests
of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places
now and of the lions on the beach. They played like
young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the
boy. He never dreamed about the boy. He simply woke,
looked out the open door at the moon and unrolled his
trousers and put them on. He urinated outside the shack
and then went up the road to wake the boy. He was
shivering with the morning cold. But he knew he would
shiver himself warm and that soon he would be rowing.
The door of the
house where the boy lived was unlocked and he opened it
and walked in quietly with his bare feet. The boy was
asleep on a cot in the first room and the old man could
see him clearly with the light that came in from the
dying moon. He took hold of one foot gently and held it
until the boy woke and turned and looked at him. The old
man nodded and the boy took his trousers from the chair
by the bed and, sitting on the bed, pulled them on.
The old man went
out the door and the boy came after him. He was sleepy
and the old man put his arms across his shoulders and
said,” I am sorry. "
"Que va. "The boy
said. "It is what a man must do."
They walked down
the road to the old man's shack and all along the road,
in the dark, barefoot men were moving, carrying the
masts of their boats.
When they reached
the old man's shack the boy took the rolls of line in
the basket and the harpoon and gaff and the old man
carried the mast with the furled sail on his shoulder.
"Do you want
coffee?” the boy asked.
"We'll put the
gear in the boat and then get some. "
They had coffee
from condensed milk cans at an early morning place that
"How did you
sleep old man?
” the boy
asked. He was waking up now although it was still hard
for him to leave his sleep.
Manolin," the old man said. "I feel confident today. "
"So do I,
” the boy
said. "Now I must get your sardines and mine and your
fresh baits. He brings our gear himself. He never wants
anyone to carry anything. "
” the old
man said. "I let you carry things when you were five
years old. "
"1 know it,
” the boy
said. "I'll be right back. Have another coffee. We have
credit here. "
He walked off,
barefooted on the coral rocks, to the ice house where
the baits were stored.
The old man drank
his coffee slowly. It was all he would have all day and
he knew that he should take it. For a long time now
eating had bored him and he never carried a lunch. He
had a bottle of water in the bow of the skiff and that
was all he needed for the day.
The boy was back
now with the sardines and the two baits wrapped in a
newspaper and they went down the trail to the skiff,
feeling the pebbled sand under their feet, and lifted
the skiff and slid her into the water.
"Good luck old
"Good luck, "the
old man said. He fitted the rope lashings of the oars
onto the thole pins and, leaning forward against the
thrust of the blades in the water, he began to row out
of the harbor in the dark. There were other boats from
the other beaches going out to sea and the old man heard
the dip and push of their oars even though he could not
see them now the moon was below the hills. Sometimes
someone would speak in a boat. But most of the boats
were silent except for the dip of the oars. They spread
apart after they were out of the mouth of the harbor and
each one headed for the part of the ocean where he hoped
to find fish. The old man knew he was going far out and
he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into
the clean early morning smell of the ocean. He saw the
phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water as he
rowed over the part of the ocean that the fishermen
called the great well because there was a sudden deep of
seven hundred fathoms where all sorts of fish
congregated because of the swirl the current made
against the steep walls of the floor of the ocean. Here
there were concentrations of shrimp and bait and
sometimes schools of squid in the deepest holes and
close to the
surface at night where all the wandering fish fed on
In the dark the
old man could feel the morning coming and as he rowed he
heard the trembling sound as flying fish left the water
and the hissing that their stiff set wings made as they
soared away in the darkness. He was very fond of flying
fish as they were his principal friends on the ocean. He
was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate
dark terns that were always flying and looking and
almost never finding, and he thought,” The birds have a
harder life than we do except for the robber birds and
the heavy strong ones. Why did they make birds so
delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean
can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she
can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds
that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad
voices are made too delicately for the sea. "
He always thought
of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in
Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her
say bad things of her but they are always said as though
she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those
who used buoys as floats for their lines and had
motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought
much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine.
They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an
enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine
and as something that gave or withheld great favors, and
if she did wild or wicked things it was because she
could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a
woman, he thought.
He was rowing
steadily and it was no effort for him since he kept well
within his speed and the surface of the ocean was flat
except for the occasional swirls of the current. He was
letting the current do a third of the work and as it
started to be light he saw he was already further out
than he had hoped to be at this hour.
I worked the deep
wells for a week and did nothing, he thought. Today I'll
work out where the schools of bonita and albacore are
and maybe there will be a big one with them.(albacore:
the long-finned tunny.)
Before it was
really light he had his baits out and was drifting with
the current. One bait was down forty fathoms. The second
was at seventy-five and the third and fourth were down
in the blue water at one hundred and one hundred and
twenty-five fathoms. Each bait hung head down with the
shank of the hook inside the bait fish, tied and sewed
solid and all the projecting part of the hook, the curve
and the point, was covered with fresh sardines. Each
sardine was hooked through both eyes so that they made a
half-garland on the projecting steel. There was no part
of the hook that a great fish could feel which was not
sweet smelling and good tasting.(These pages provide a
good example of Hemingway’s description from the point
of view of the fisherman.)
The boy had given
him two fresh small tunas, or albacores, which hung on
the two deepest lines like plummets and, on the others,
he had a big blue runner and a yellow jack that had been
used before; but they were in good condition still and
had the excellent sardines to give them scent and
attractiveness. Each line, as thick around as a big
pencil, was looped onto a green-sapped stick so that any
pull or touch on the bait would make the stick dip and
each line had two forty-fathom coils which could be made
fast to the other spare coils so that, if it were
necessary, a fish could take out over three hundred
fathoms of line.
Now the man
watched the dip of the three sticks over the side of the
skiff and rowed gently to keep the lines straight up and
down and at their proper depths. It was quite light and
any moment now the sun would rise.
The sun rose
thinly from the sea and the old man could see the other
boats, low on the water and well in toward the shore,
spread out across the current. Then the sun was brighter
and the glare came on the water and then, as it rose
clear, the flat sea sent it back at his eyes so that it
hurt sharply and he rowed without looking into it. He
looked down into the water and watched the lines that
went straight down into the dark of the water. He kept
them straighter than anyone did, so that at each level
in the darkness of the stream there would be a bait
waiting exactly where he wished it to be for any fish
that swam there. Others let them drift with the current
and sometimes they were at sixty fathoms when the
fishermen thought they were at a hundred.
But, he thought,
I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck any
more. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new
day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be
exact. (This is a favorite theme with Hemingway.) Then
when luck comes you are ready.
The sun was two
hours higher now and it did not hurt his eyes so much to
look into the east. There were only three boats in sight
now and they showed very low and far inshore.
All my life the
early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are
still good. In the evening I can look straight into it
without getting the blackness. It has more force in the
evening too. But in the morning it is painful.
Just then he saw
a man-of-war bird with his long black wings circling in
the sky ahead of him. He made a quick drop, slanting
down on his backswept wings, and then circled
again.(man-of-war bird: a bird with a great wingspread,
also called frigate bird, it roams the tropical seas,
snatching fish and robbing smaller birds.)
something, "the old man said aloud.
"He's not just
He rowed slowly
and steadily toward where the bird was circling. He did
not hurry and he kept his lines straight up and down.
But he crowded the current a little so that he was still
fishing correctly though faster than he would have
fished if he was not trying to use the bird.
The bird went
higher in the air and circled again, his wings
motionless. Then he dove suddenly and the old man saw
flying fish spurt out of the water and sail desperately
over the surface.
old man said aloud. "Big dolphin. "
He shipped his
oars and brought a small line from under the bow. It had
a wire leader and a medium-sized hook and he baited it
with one of the sardines. He let it go over the side and
then made it fast to a ring bolt in the stern. Then he
baited another line and left it coiled in the shade of
the bow. He went back to rowing and to watching the
longwinged black bird who was working, now, low over the
As he watched the
bird dipped again slanting his wings for the dive and
then swinging them wildly and ineffectually as he
followed the flying fish. The old man
could see the
slight bulge in the water that the big dolphin raised as
they followed the escaping fish. The dolphin were
cutting through the water below the flight of the fish
and would be in the water, driving at speed, when the
fish dropped. It is a big school of dolphin, he thought.
They are wide spread and the flying fish have little
chance. The bird has no chance. The flying fish are too
big for him and they go too fast.
He watched the
flying fish burst out again and again and the
ineffectual movements of the bird. That school has
gotten away from me, he thought. They are moving out too
fast and too far. But perhaps I will pick up a stray and
perhaps my big fish is around them. My big fish must be
The clouds over
the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only
a long green line with the gray blue hills behind it.
The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was
almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red
sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the
strange light the sun made now. He watched his lines to
see them go straight down out of sight into the water
and he was happy to see so much plankton because it
meant fish. The strange light the sun made in the water,
now that the sun was higher, meant good weather and so
did the shape of the clouds over the land. But the bird
was almost out of sight now and nothing showed on the
surface of the water but some patches of yellow,
sun-bleached Sargasso weed and the purple, formalized,
iridescent, gelatinous bladder of a Portuguese
man-of-war floating close beside the boat. It turned on
its side and then righted itself. It floated cheerfully
as a bubble with its long deadly purple filaments
trailing a yard behind it in the water.(Portuguese
man-of-war: a type of jellyfish.)
"Agua mala, "the
man said. "You whore. " From where he swung lightly
against his oars he looked down into the water and saw
the tiny fish that were colored like the trailing
filaments and swam between them and under the small
shade the bubble made as it drifted. They were immune to
its poison. But men were not and when some of the
filaments would catch on a line and rest there slimy and
purple while the old man was working a fish, he would
have welts and sores on his arms and hands of the sort
that poison ivy or poison oak can give. But these
poisonings from the agua mala came quickly and struck
like a whiplash.(agua mala: a fisherman’s exclamation;
literally bad water.)
bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest thing
in the sea and the old man loved' to see the big sea
turtles eating them. The turtles saw them, approached
them from the front, then shut their eyes so they were
completely carapaced and ate them filaments and all. The
old man loved to see the turtles eat them and he loved
to walk on them on the beach after a storm and hear them
pop when he stepped on them with the horny soles of his
feet.(carapaced: protected by the hard upper shell.)
He loved green
turtles and hawks-bills with their elegance and speed
and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for
the huge, stupid loggerheads, yellow in their
armor-plating, strange in their love-making, and happily
eating the Portuguese men-of-war with their eyes shut.
He had no
mysticism about turtles although he had gone in turtle
boats for many years. He was sorry for them all, even
the great trunk backs that were as long as the
skiff and weighed
a ton. Most people are heartless about turtles because a
turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut
up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a
heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs. He ate
the white eggs to give himself strength. He ate them all
through May to be strong in September and October for
the truly big fish.
He also drank a
cup of shark liver oil each day from the big drum in the
shack where many of the fishermen kept their gear. It
was there for all fishermen who wanted it. Most
fishermen hated the taste. But it was no worse than
getting up at the hours that they rose and it was very
good against all colds and grippes and it was good for
Now the old man
looked up and saw that the bird was circling again.
fish,” he said aloud. No flying fish broke the surface
and there was no scattering of bait fish. But as the old
man watched, a small tuna rose in the air, turned and
dropped head first into the water. The tuna shone silver
in the sun and after he had dropped back into the water
another and another rose and they were jumping in all
directions, churning the water and leaping in long jumps
after the bait. They were circling it and driving it.
If they don't
travel too fast I will get into them, the old man
thought, and he watched the school working the water
white and the bird now dropping and dipping into the
bait fish that were forced to the surface in their
"The bird is a
” the old
man said. Just then the stern line came taut under his
foot, where he had kept a loop of the line, and he
dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna's
shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to
haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and
he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and
the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side
and into the boat. He lay in the stern in the sun,
compact and bullet shaped, his big, unintelligent eyes
staring as he thumped his life out against the planking
of the boat with the quick shivering strokes of his
neat, fast-moving tail. The old man hit him on the head
for kindness and kicked him, his body still shuddering,
under the shade of the stern.
said aloud. "He'll make a beautiful bait. He'll weigh
ten pounds. "
He did not
remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he
was by himself. He had sung when he was by himself in
the old days and he had sung at night sometimes when he
was alone steering on his watch in the smacks or in the
turtle boats. He had probably started to talk aloud,
when alone, when the boy had left. But he did not
remember. When he and the boy fished together they
usually spoke only when it was necessary. They talked at
night or when they were stormbound by bad weather. It
was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea
and the old man had always considered it so and
respected it. But now he said his thoughts aloud many
times since there was no one that they could annoy.
"If the others
heard me talking out loud they would think that I am
crazy, "he said aloud. "But since I am not crazy, I do
not care. And the rich have radios to talk to them in
their boats and to bring them the baseball. "
Now is no time to
think of baseball, he thought. Now is the time to think
one thing. That
which I was born for. There might be a big one around
that school, he thought. I picked up only a straggler
from the albacore that were feeding. But they are
working far out and fast. Everything that shows on the
surface today travels very fast and to the northeast.
Can that be the time of day? Or is it some sign of
weather that I do not know?
He could not see
the green of the shore now but only the tops of the blue
hills that showed white as though they were snow-capped
and the clouds that looked like high snow mountains
above them. The sea was very dark and the light made
prisms in the water. The myriad flecks of the plankton
were annnulled now by the high sun and it was only the
great deep prisms m the blue water that the old man saw
now with his lines going straight down into the water
that was a mile deep.
The tuna, the
fishermen called all the fish of that species tuna and
only distinguished among them by their proper names when
they came to sell them or to trade them for baits, were
down again. The sun was hot now and the old man felt it
on the back of his neck and felt the sweat trickle down
his back as he rowed.
I could just
drift, he thought, and sleep and put a bight of line
around my toe to wake me. But today is eighty-five days
and I should fish the day well.
watching his lines, he saw one of the projecting green
sticks dip sharply.
"Yes,” he said.
shipped his oars without bumping the boat. He reached
out for the line and held it softly between the thumb
and forefinger of his right hand. He felt no strain nor
weight and he held the line lightly. Then it came again.
This time it was a tentative pull, not solid nor heavy,
and he knew exactly what it was. One hundred fathoms
down a marlin was eating the sardines that covered the
point and the shank of the hook where the hand-forged
hook projected from the head of the small tuna.
The old man held
the line delicately, and softly, with his left hand,
unleashed it from the stick. Now he could let it run
through his fingers without the fish feeling any
This far out, he
must be huge in this month, he thought. Eat them, fish.
Eat them. Please eat them. How fresh they are and you
down there six hundred feet in that cold water in the
dark. Make another turn in the dark and come back and
He felt the light
delicate pulling and then a harder pull when a sardine's
head must have been more difficult to break from the
hook. Then there was nothing.
"Come on,” the
old man said aloud. "Make another turn. Just smell them.
Aren't they lovely? Eat them good now and then there is
the tuna. Hard and cold and lovely. Don't be shy, fish.
Eat them. "
He waited with
the line between his thumb and his finger, watching it
and the other lines at the same time for the fish might
have swum up or down. Then came the same delicate
pulling touch again.
"He'll take it,”
the old man said aloud. "God help him to take it. "
He did not take
it though. He was gone and the old man felt nothing.
"He can't have
gone,” he said. "Christ knows he can’t have gone. He's
making a turn. Maybe he has been hooked before and he
remembers something of it."
Then he felt the
gentle touch on the line and he was happy.
"It was only his
” he said.
"He'll take it. "
He was happy
feeling the gentle pulling and then he felt something
hard and unbelievably heavy. It was the weight of the
fish and he let the line slip down, down, down,
unrolling off the first of the two reserve coils. As it
went down, slipping lightly through the old man's
fingers, he still could feel the great weight, though
the pressure of his thumb and finger were almost
"What a fish,” he
said. "He has it sideways in his mouth now and he is
moving off with it. "
Then he will turn
and swallow it, he thought. He did not say that because
he knew that if you said a good thing it might not
happen. He knew what a huge fish this was and he thought
of him moving away in the darkness with the tuna held
crosswise in his mouth. At that moment he felt him stop
moving but the weight was still there. Then the weight
increased and he gave more line. He tightened the
pressure of his thumb and finger for a moment and the
weight increased and was going straight down.
''He's taken it,
” he said.
"Now I'll let him eat it well. "
He let the line
slip through his fingers while he reached down with his
left hand and made fast the free end of the two reserve
coils to the loop of the two reserve coils of the next
line. Now he was ready. He had three forty-fathom coils
of line in reserve now, as well as the coil he was
"Eat it a little
more,” he said. "Eat it well. "
Eat it so that
the point of the hook goes into your heart and kills
you, he thought, Come up easy and let me put the harpoon
into you. All right. Are you ready? Have you been long
enough at table?
"Now! "He said
aloud and struck hard with both hands, gained a yard of
line and then struck again and again, swinging with each
arm alternately on the cord with all the strength of his
arms and the pivoted weight of his body.
The fish just moved away slowly and the old man could
not raise him an inch. His line was strong and made for
heavy fish and he held it against his back until it was
so taut that beads of water were jumping from it. Then
it began to make a slow hissing sound in the water and
he still held it, bracing himself against the thwart and
leaning back against the pull. The boat began to move
slowly off toward the northwest.
The fish moved
steadily and they travelled slowly on the calm water.
The other baits were still in the water but there was
nothing to be done.
"I wish I had the
boy,” the old man said aloud. "I'm being towed by a fish
and I'm the towing bitt. I could make the line fast. But
then he could break it. I must hold him all I can and
give him line when he must have it. Thank God he is
travelling and not going down. "(the towing bitt: a post
fastened in the deck to hold a cable or rope.)
What I will do if
he decides to go down, I don't know. What I'll do if he
sounds and dies I don't know. But I'll do something.
There are plenty of things I can do.
He held the line
against his back and watched its slant in the water and
the skiff moving steadily to the northwest.
This will kill
him, the old man thought. He can't do this forever. But
four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily
out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still
braced solidly with the line across his back.
"It was noon when
I hooked him,
” he said.
"And I have never seen him. "
He had pushed his
straw hat hard down on his head before he hooked the
fish and it was cutting his forehead. He was thirsty too
and he got down on his knees and, being careful not to
jerk on the line, moved as far into the bow as he could
get and reached the water bottle with one hand. He
opened it and drank a little. Then he rested against the
bow. He rested sitting on the unstepped mast and sail
and tried not to think but only to endure.(the unstepped
mast and sail: the sail and mast that had been removed
from the step, which is the socket, frame, or platform
for supporting the lower end of a mast. Notice how the
passing of time is suggested.)
Then he looked
behind him and saw that no land was visible. That makes
no difference, he thought. I can always come in on the
glow from Havana. There are two more hours before the
sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he
doesn't maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does
not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise. I
have no cramps and I feel strong. It is he that has the
hook in his mouth. But what a fish to pull like that. He
must have his mouth shut tight on the wire. I wish I
could see him. I wish I could see him only once to know
what I have against me.
The fish never
changed his course nor his direction all that night as
far as the man could tell from watching the stars. It
was cold after the sun went down and the old man's sweat
dried cold on his back and his arms and his old legs.
During the day he had taken the sack that covered the
bait box and spread it in the sun to dry. After the sun
went down he tied it around his neck so that it hung
down over his back and he cautiously worked it down
under the line that was across his shoulders now. The
sack cushioned the line and he had found a way of
leaning forward against the bow so that he was almost
comfortable. The position actually was only somewhat
less intolerable; but he thought of it as almost
I can do nothing
with him and he can do nothing with me, he thought. Not
as long as he keeps this up.
Once he stood up
and urinated over the side of the skiff and looked at
the stars and checked his course. The line showed like a
phosphorescent streak in the water straight out from his
shoulders. They were moving more slowly now and the glow
of Havana was not so strong, so that he knew the current
must be carrying them to the eastward. If I lose the
glare of Havana we must be going more to the eastward,
he thought. For if the fish's course held true I must
see it for many more hours. I wonder how the baseball
came out in the grand leagues today, he thought. It
would be wonderful to do this with a radio. Then he
thought, think of it always. Think of what you are
doing. You must do nothing stupid.
Then he said
aloud," I wish I had the boy. To help me and to see
this. " No one should be alone in their old age, he
thought. But it is unavoidable. I must remember to eat
the tuna before he spoils in order to keep strong.
Remember, no matter how little you want to, that you
must eat him in the morning. Remember, he
said to himself.
During the night
two porpoise came around the boat and he could hear them
rolling and blowing. He could tell the difference
between the blowing noise the male made and the sighing
blow of the female.
"They are good,"
he said. "They play and make jokes and love one another.
They are our brothers like the flying fish. "
Then he began to
pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful
and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought.
Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so
strangely. Perhaps he is too wise to jump. He could ruin
me by jumping or by a wild rush. But perhaps he has been
hooked many times before and he knows that this is how
he should make his fight. He cannot know that it is only
one man against him, nor that it is an old man. But what
a great fish he is and what he will bring in the market
if the flesh is good. He took the bait like a male and
he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it. I
wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate
as I am?(This example of fidelity should be noted.
Immediately afterward, the theme of treachery is
He remembered the
time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male
fish always let the female fish feed first and the
hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken,
despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the
time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and
circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close
that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with
his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that
size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and
clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper
edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until
her color turned to a color almost like the backing of
mirrors, and then, with the boy's aid, hoisted her
aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the
boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and
preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into
the air beside the boat to see where the female was and
then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his
pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender
stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man
remembered, and he had stayed.
That was the
saddest thing I ever saw with them, the old man thought.
The boy was sad too and we begged her pardon and
butchered her promptly.
"I wish the boy
” he said
aloud and settled himself against the rounded planks of
the bow and felt the strength of the great fish through
the line he held across his shoulders moving steadily
toward whatever he had chosen.
through my treachery, it had been necessary to him to
make a choice, the old man thought.
His choice had
been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all
snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go
there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people
in the world. Now we are joined together and have been
since noon. And no one to help either one of us.
Perhaps I should
not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the
thing that I was born for. I must surely remember to eat
the tuna after it gets light.
Some time before
daylight something took one of the baits that were
him. He heard the
stick break and the line begin to rush out over the
gunwale of the skiff. In the darkness he loosened his
sheath knife and taking all the strain of the fish on
his left shoulder he leaned back and cut the line
against the wood of the gunwale. Then he cut the other
line closest to him and in the dark made the loose ends
of the reserve coils fast. He worked skillfully with the
one hand and put his foot on the coils to hold them as
he drew his knots tight. Now he had six reserve coils of
line. There were two from each bait he had severed and
the two from the bait the fish had taken and they were
After it is
light, he thought, I will work back to the forty-fathom
bait and cut it away too and link up the reserve coils.
I will have lost two hundred fathoms of good Catalan
cordel and the hooks and leaders. That can be replaced.
But who replaces this fish if I hook some fish and it
cuts him off? I don't know what that fish was that took
the bait just now. It could have been a marlin or a
broadbill or a shark. I never felt him. I had to get rid
of him too fast.
Aloud he said,” I
wish I had the boy. "
But you haven't
got the boy, he thought. You have only yourself and you
had better work back to the last line now, in the dark
or not in the dark, and cut it away and hook up the two
So he did it. It
was difficult in the dark and once the fish made a surge
that pulled him down on his face and made a cut below
his eye. The blood ran down his cheek a little way. But
it coagulated and dried before it reached his chin and
he worked his way back to the bow and rested against the
wood. He adjusted the sack and carefully worked the line
so that it came across a new part of his shoulders and,
holding it anchored with his shoulders, he carefully
felt the pull of the fish and then felt with his hand
the progress of the skiff through the water.
I wonder what he
made that lurch for, he thought. The wire must have
slipped on the hill of his back. Certainly his back
cannot feel as badly as mine does. But he cannot pull
this skiff forever, no matter how great he is. Now
everything is cleared away that might make trouble and I
have a big reserve of line; all that a man can ask.
” he said softly,
aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I am dead. "
He'll stay with
me too, I suppose, the old man thought and he waited for
it to be light. It was cold now in the time before
daylight and he pushed against the wood to be warm. I
can do it as long as he can, he thought. And in the
first light the line extended out and down into the
water. The boat moved steadily and when the first edge
of the sun rose it was on the old man's right shoulder.
” the old
man said. The current will have set us far to the
eastward, he thought. I wish he would turn with the
current. That would show that he was tiring.
When the sun had
risen further the old man realized that the fish was not
tiring. There was only one favorable sign. The slant of
the line showed he was swimming at a lesser depth. That
did not necessarily mean that he would jump. But he
"God let him
” the old
man said. "I have enough line to handle him. "
Maybe if I can
increase the tension just a little it will hurt him and
he will jump, he thought. Now that it is daylight let
him jump so that he'll fill the sacks along his
backbone with air
and then he cannot go deep to die.
He tried to
increase the tension, but the line had been taut up to
the very edge of the breaking point since he had hooked
the fish and he felt the harshness as he leaned back to
pull and knew he could put no more strain on it. I must
not jerk it ever, he thought. Each jerk widens the cut
the hook makes and then when he does jump he might throw
it. Anyway I feel better with the sun and for once I do
not have to look into it.
There was yellow
weed on the line but the old man knew that only made an
added drag and he was pleased. It was the yellow Gulf
weed that had made so much phosphorescence in the night.
” he said, “I love
you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead
before this day ends. "
Let us hope so,
A small bird came
toward the skiff from the north. He was a warbler and
flying very low over the water. The old man could see
that he was very tired.
The bird made the
stern of the boat and rested there. Then he flew around
the old man's head and rested on the line where he was
"How old are you?
” the old
man asked the bird. "Is this your first trip?"
The bird looked
at him when he spoke. He was too tired even to examine
the line and he teetered on it as his delicate feet
gripped it fast.
the old man told him. "It's too steady. You shouldn't be
that tired after a windless night. What are birds coming
The hawks, he
thought, that come out to sea to meet them. But he said
nothing of this to the bird who could not understand him
anyway and who would learn about the hawks soon enough.
"Take a good
rest, small bird,” he said. "Then go in and take your
chance like any man or bird or fish. "
It encouraged him
to talk because his back had stiffened in the night and
it hurt truly now.
"Stay at my house
if you like, bird,
” he said.
"I am sorry I cannot hoist the sail and take you in with
the small breeze that is rising. But I am with a friend.
Just then the
fish gave a sudden lurch that pulled the old man down
onto the bow and would have pulled him overboard if he
had not braced himself and given some line.
The bird had
flown up when the line jerked and the old man had not
even seen him go. He felt the line carefully with his
right hand and noticed his hand was bleeding.
him then,” he said aloud and pulled back on the line to
see if he could turn the fish. But when he was touching
the breaking point he held steady and settled back
against the strain of the line.
it now, fish,
” he said.
"And so, God knows, am I. "
He looked around
for the bird now because he would have liked him for
company. The bird was gone.
You did not stay
long, the man thought. But it is rougher where you are
until you make
the shore. How did I let the fish cut me with that one
quick pull he made? I must be getting very stupid. Or
perhaps I was looking at the small bird and thinking of
him. Now I will pay attention to my work and then I must
eat the tuna so that I will not have a failure of
"I wish the boy
were here and that I had some salt, "he said aloud.
weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling
carefully he washed his hand in the ocean and held it
there, submerged, for more than a minute watching the
blood trail away and the steady movement of the water
against his hand as the boat moved.
"He has slowed
much, "he said.
The old man would
have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but
he was afraid of another sudden lurch by the fish and he
stood up and braced himself and held his hand up against
the sun. It was only a line burn that had cut his flesh.
But it was in the working part of his hand. He knew he
would need his hands before this was over and he did not
like to be cut before it started. " Now," he said, when
his hand had dried, " I must eat the small tuna. I can
reach him with the gaff and eat him here in comfort. "
He knelt down and
found the tuna under the stern with the gaff and drew it
toward him keeping it clear of the coiled lines. Holding
the line with his left shoulder again, and bracing on
his left hand and arm, he took the tuna off the gaff
hook and put the gaff back in place. He put one knee on
the fish and cut strips of dark red meat longitudinally
from the back of the head to the tail. They were
wedge-shaped strips and he cut them from next to the
backbone down to the edge of the belly. When he had cut
six strips he spread them out on the wood of the bow,
wiped his knife on his trousers, and lifted the carcass
of the bonito by the tail and dropped it overboard.
"I don't think I
can eat an entire one,” he said and drew his knife
across one of the strips. He could feel the steady hard
pull of the line and his left hand was cramped. It drew
up tight on the heavy cord and he looked at it in
"What kind of a
hand is that,” he said. "Cramp then if you want. Make
yourself into a claw. It will do you no good. "
Come on, he
thought and looked down into the dark water at the slant
of the line. Eat it now and it will strengthen the hand.
It is not the hand's fault and you have been many hours
with the fish. But you can stay with him forever. Eat
the bonito now.
He picked up a
piece and put it in his mouth and chewed it slowly. It
was not unpleasant.
Chew it well, he
thought, and get all the juices. It would not be bad to
eat with a little lime or with lemon or with salt.
"How do you feel,
” he asked
the cramped hand that was almost as stiff as rigor
mortis. "I'll eat some more for you. "
He ate the other
part of the piece that he had cut in two. He chewed it
carefully and then spat out the skin.
"How does it go,
hand? Or is it too early to know?"
He took another
full piece and chewed it.
"It is a strong
thought. "I was lucky to get him instead of dolphin.
Dolphin is too sweet. This is hardly sweet at all and
all the strength is still in it. "
There is no sense
in being anything but practical though, he thought. I
wish I had some salt. And I do not know whether the sun
will rot or dry what is left, so I had better eat it all
although I am not hungry. The fish is calm and steady. I
will eat it all and then I will be ready.
” he said,
“I do this for you. "
I wish I could
feed the fish, he thought. He is my brother. But I must
kill him and keep strong to do it. Slowly and
conscientiously he ate all of the wedge-shaped strips of
up, wiping his hand on his trousers.
"Now, "he said.
"You can let the cord go, hand, and I will handle him
with the right arm alone until you stop that nonsense.
"He put his left foot on the heavy line that the left
hand had held and lay back against the pull against his
help me to have the cramp go,
” he said. "Because
I do not know what the fish is going to do. "
But he seems
calm, he thought, and following his plan. But what is
his plan, he thought. And what is mine? Mine I must
improvise to his because of his great size. If he will
jump I can kill him. But he stays down forever. Then I
will stay down with him forever.
He rubbed the
cramped hand against his trousers and tried to gentle
the fingers. But it would not open.
Maybe it will
open with the sun, he thought, Maybe it will open when
the strong raw tuna is digested. If I have to have it, I
will open it, cost whatever it costs. But I do not want
to open it now by force. Let it open by itself and come
back of its own accord. After all I abused it much in
the night when it is necessary to free and unite the
He looked across
the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see
the prisms in the deep dark water and the line
stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm.
The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and
he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching
themselves against the sky over the water, then
blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever
alone on the sea.
He thought of how
some men feared being out of sight of land in a small
boat and knew they were right in the months of sudden
bad weather. But now they were in hurricane months and,
when there are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane
months is the best of all the year.
If there is a
hurricane you always see the signs of it in the sky for
days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore
because they do not know what to look for, he thought.
The land must make a difference too, in the shape of the
clouds. But we have no hurricane coming now.
He looked at the
sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly piles
of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of
the cirrus against the high
"Light brisa," he
said. "Better weather for me than for you, fish.
His left hand was
still cramped, but he was unknotting it slowly.
I hate a cramp,
he thought. It is a treachery of one's own body. It is
humiliating before others to have a diarrhoea from
ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he
thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself
especially when one is alone.(The distinction between
humiliation, a form of treachery, and humility, a form
of triumph, is important.)
If the boy were
here he could rub it for me and loosen it down from the
forearm, he thought. But it will loosen up.
Then, with his
right hand he felt the difference in the pull of the
line before he saw the slant change in the water. Then,
as he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand
hard and fast against his thigh he saw the line slanting
"He's coming up,”
he said. ."Come on hand. Please come on.
The line rose
slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean
bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came
out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was
bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple
and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and
a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball
bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full
length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly,
like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade
of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.
"He is two feet
longer than the skiff, "the old man said. The line was
going out fast but steadily and the fish was not
panicked. The old man was trying with both hands to keep
the line just inside of breaking strength. He knew that
if he could not slow the fish with a steady pressure the
fish could take out all the line and break it.
He is a great
fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never
let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he
made his run. If I were him I would put in everything
now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they
are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although
they are more noble and more able. The old man had seen
many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than
a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in
his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight
of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had
ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his
left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an
eagle.(I must convince him: the word convince is used
perhaps with two meanings, persuade and conquer.)
(At this point in
the story the odds in the conflict are stated.)
It will uncramp
though, he thought. Surely it will uncramp to help my
right hand. There are three things that are brothers:
the fish and my two hands. It must uncramp. It is
unworthy of it to be cramped. The fish had slowed again
and was going at his usual pace.
I wonder why he
jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though
to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he
thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am.
But then he would see the cramped hand. Let him think I
more man than I
am and I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought,
with everything he has against only my will and my
comfortably against the wood and took his suffering as
it came and the fish swam steadily and the boat moved
slowly through the dark water. There was a small sea
rising with the wind coming up from the east and at noon
the old man's left hand was uncramped.
"Bad news for you
fish, "he said and shifted the line over the sacks that
covered his shoulders.
comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the
suffering at all. "I am not religious, "he said. "But I
will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I
should catch this fish, and I promise to make a
pilgrimage to the Virgin de Cobre if I catch him. That
is a promise. "
He commenced to
say his prayers mechanically. Sometimes he would be so
tired that he could not remember the prayer and then he
would say them fast so that they would come
automatically. Hail Marys are easier to say than Our
Fathers, he thought. "Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord
is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed
is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary. Mother of
God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our
death. Amen. "Then he added, “Blessed Virgin, pray for
the death of this fish. Wonderful though he is. "
With his prayers
said, and feeling much better, but suffering exactly as
much, and perhaps a little more, he leaned against the
wood of the bow and began, mechanically, to work the
fingers of his left hand. The sun was hot now although
the breeze was rising gently.
"I had better
re-bait that little line out over the stern,” he said.
"If the fish decides to stay another night I will need
to eat again and the water is low in the bottle. I don't
think I can get anything but a dolphin here. But if I
eat him fresh enough he won't be bad. I wish a flying
fish would come on board tonight. But I have no light to
attract them. A flying fish is excellent to eat raw and
I would not have to cut him up. I must save all my
strength now. Christ, I did not know he was so big. "
"I'll kill him
though,” he said. "In all his greatness and his glory. "
Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him
what a man can do and what a man endures. "I told the
boy I was a strange old man,
” he said. "Now is
when I must prove it. "
times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was
proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never
thought about the past when he was doing it.
(The idea of a
man’s proving himself over and over again is found in
many of Hemingway’s books.)
I wish he'd sleep
and I could sleep and dream about the lions, he thought.
Why are the lions the main thing that is left? Don’t
think, old man, he said to himself. Rest gently now
against the wood and think of nothing. He is working.
Work as little as you can.
It was getting
into the afternoon and the boat still moved slowly and
But there was an
added drag now from the easterly breeze and the old man
rode gently with the small sea and the hurt of the cord
across his back came to him easily and smoothly.
Once in the
afternoon the line started to rise again. But the fish
only continued to swim at a slightly higher level. The
sun was on the old man's left arm and shoulder and on
his back. So he knew the fish had turned east of north.
Now that he had
seen him once, he could picture the fish swimming in the
water with his purple pectoral fins set wide as wings
and the great erect tail slicing through the dark. I
wonder how much he sees at that depth, the old man
thought. His eye is huge and a horse, with much less
eye, can see in the dark. Once I could see quite well in
the dark. Not in the absolute dark. But almost as a cat
The sun and his
steady movement of his fingers had uncramped his left
hand now completely and he began to shift more of the
strain to it and he shrugged the muscles of his back to
shift the hurt of the cord a little. "If you're not
tired, fish,” he said aloud, "you must be very strange.
He felt very
tired now and he knew the night would come soon and he
tried to think of other things. He thought of the Big
Leagues, to him they were the Gran Ligas, and he knew
that the Yankees of New York were playing the Tigres of
This is the
second day now that I do not know the result of the
juegos, he thought. But I must have confidence and I
must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things
perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his
heel. What is a bone spur? He asked himself. Un espuela
de hueso. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as
the spur of a fighting cock in one's heel? I do not
think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of
both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks
do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts.
Still I would rather be that beast down there in the
darkness of the sea.(juegos: sports; games)(bone spur: a
spurlike outgrowth from a tissue, especially from a
bone. The operation in 1947 for removal of the spur in
Dimaggio ’s heel did not remove the danger of irritation
(Notice the old
man’s attitude towards the birds and beasts, and the
come,” he said aloud. "If sharks come, God pity him and
Do you believe
the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I
will stay with this one? He thought. I am sure he would
and more since he is young and strong. Also his father
was a fisherman.
But would the
bone spur hurt him too much?
"I do not know,”
he said aloud. "I never had a bone spur. "
As the sun set he
remembered, to give himself more confidence, the time in
the tavern at Casablanca when he had played the hand
game with the great negro from Cienfuegos who was the
strongest man on the docks. They had gone one day and
one night with their elbows on a chalk line on the table
and their forearms straight up and their hands gripped
tight. Each one was trying to force the other's hand
down onto the table. There was much betting and people
went in and out of the room under the kerosene lights
and he had looked at the arm and hand of the negro and
at the negro's face. They changed the referees every
four hours after the first eight so that the referees
could sleep. Blood came out from under the fingernails
of both his and the
negro's hands and
they looked each other in the eye and at their hands and
forearms and the bettors went in and out of the room and
sat on high chairs against the wall and watched. The
walls were painted bright blue and were of wood and the
lamps threw their shadows against them. The negro's
shadow was huge and it moved on the wall as the breeze
moved the lamps. (Casablanca: a seaport in northwest
Africa---another hint of the old man ’s
bravels.)(Cienfuegos: a city in Cuba.)
The odds would
change back and forth all night and they fed the negro
rum and lighted cigarettes for him. Then the Negro,
after the rum, would try for a tremendous effort and
once he had the old man, who was not an old man then but
was Santiago El Campeon, nearly three inches off
balance. But the old man had raised his hand up to dead
even again. He was sure then that he had the negro, who
was a fine man and a great athlete, beaten. And at
daylight when the bettors were asking that it be called
a draw and the referee was shaking his head, he had
unleashed his effort and forced the hand of the negro
down and down until it rested on the wood. The match had
started on a Sunday morning and ended on a Monday
morning. Many of the bettors had asked for a draw
because they had to go to work on the docks loading
sacks of sugar or at the Havana Coal Company. Otherwise
everyone would have wanted it to go to a finish. But he
had finished it anyway and before anyone had to go to
For a long time
after that everyone had called him The Champion and
there had been a return match in the spring. But not
much money was bet and he had won it quite easily since
he had broken the confidence of the negro from
Cienfuegos in the first match. After that he had a few
matches and then no more. He decided that he could beat
anyone if he wanted to badly enough and he decided that
it was bad for his right hand for fishing. He had tried
a few practice matches with his left hand. But his left
hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he
called on it to do and he did not trust it.
The sun will bake
it out well now, he thought. It should not cramp on me
again unless it gets too cold in the night. I wonder
what this night will bring.
passed overhead on its course to Miami and he watched
its shadow scaring up the schools of flying fish.
"With so much
flying fish there should be dolphin, "he said, and
leaned back on the line to see if it was possible to
gain any on his fish. But he could not and it stayed at
the hardness and waterdrop shivering that preceded
breaking. The boat moved ahead slowly and he watched the
airplane until he could no longer see it.
It must be very
strange in an airplane, he thought. I wonder what the
sea looks like from that height? They should be able to
see the fish well if they do not fly too high. I would
like to fly very slowly at two hundred fathoms high and
see the fish from above. In the turtle boats I was in
the cross-trees of the mast-head and even at that height
I saw much. The dolphin look greener from there and you
can see their stripes and their purple spots and you can
see all of the school as they swim. Why is it that all
the fast-moving fish of the dark current have purple
backs and usually purple stripes or spots? The dolphin
looks green of course because he is really golden. But
when he comes to feed, truly hungry, purple stripes show
on his sides as on a marlin.
Can it be anger,
or the greater speed he makes that brings them out?
Just before it
was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed
that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the
ocean were making love with something under a yellow
blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin. He saw
it first when it jumped in the air, true gold in the
last of the sun and bending and flapping wildly in the
air. It jumped again and again in the acrobatics of its
fear and he worked his way back to the stern and
crouching and holding the big line with his right hand
and arm, he pulled the dolphin in with his left hand,
stepping on the gained line each time with his bare left
foot. When the fish was at the stern, plunging and
cutting from side to side in desperation, the old man
leaned over the stern and lifted the burnished gold fish
with its purple spots over the stern. Its jaws were
working convulsively in quick bites against the hook and
it pounded the bottom of the skiff with its long flat
body, its tail and its head until he clubbed it across
the shining golden head until it shivered and was still.
The old man
unhooked the fish, rebaited the line with another
sardine and tossed it over. Then he worked his way
slowly back to the bow. He washed his left hand and
wiped it on his trousers. Then he shifted the heavy line
from his right hand to his left and washed his right
hand in the sea while he watched the sun go into the
ocean and the slant of the big cord.
changed at all, "he said. But watching the movement of
the water against his hand he noticed that it was
"I'll lash the
two oars together across the stern and that will slow
him in the night,
” he said.
"He's good for the night and so am I. "
It would be
better to gut the dolphin a little later to save the
blood in the meat, he thought. I can do that a little
later and lash the oars to make a drag at the same time.
I had better keep the fish quiet now and not disturb him
too much at sunset. The setting of the sun is a
difficult time for all fish. He let his hand dry in the
air then grasped the line with it and eased himself as
much as he could and allowed himself to be pulled
forward against the wood so that the boat took the
strain as much, or more, than he did.
I'm learning how
to do it, he thought. This part of it anyway. Then too,
remember he hasn't eaten since he took the bait and he
is huge and needs much food. I have eaten the whole
bonito. Tomorrow I will eat the dolphin. He called it
dorado. Perhaps I should eat some of it when I clean it.
It will be harder to eat than the bonito. But, then,
nothing is easy.
"How do you feel,
fish?” he asked aloud. "I feel good and my left hand is
better and I have food for a night and a day. Pull the
boat, fish. "
He did not truly
feel good because the pain from the cord across his back
had almost passed pain and gone into a dullness that he
mistrusted. But I have had worse things than that, he
thought. My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is
gone from the other. My legs are all right. Also now I
have gained on him in the question of sustenance.
It was dark now
as it becomes dark quickly after the sun sets in
September. He lay against the worn wood of the bow and
rested all that he could. The first stars were
out. He did not
know the name of Rigel but he saw it and knew soon they
would all be out and he would have all his distant
friends.(Rigel: a star in the constellation Orion.)
"The fish is my
friend too," he said aloud. "I have never seen or heard
of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not
have to try to kill the stars. "
Imagine if each
day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The
moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should
have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky, he
thought.(The moon runs away: This idea lies behind the
myths of many nations. The old man is the hunter or
fisherman of any land, interpreting the mysteries of
Then he was sorry
for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his
determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow
for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But
are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is
no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his
behavior and his great dignity.
I do not
understand these things, he thought. But it is good that
we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the
stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true
Now, he thought,
I must think about the drag. It has its perils and its
merits. I may lose so much line that I will lose him, if
he makes his effort and the drag made by the oars is in
place and the boat loses al her lightness. Her lightness
prolongs both our suffering but it is my safety since he
has great speed that he has never yet employed. No
matter what passes must gut the dolphin so he does not
spoil and eat some of him to be strong.
Now I will rest
an hour more and feel that he is solid and steady before
I move back to the stern to do the work and make the
decision. In the meantime can see how he acts and if he
shows any changes. The oars are a good trick; but it has
reached the time to play for safety. He is much fish
still and I saw that the hook was in the corner of his
mouth and he has kept his mouth tight shut. The
punishment of the hook is nothing. The punishment of
hunger, and that he is against something that he does
not comprehend, is everything. Rest now, old man, and
let him work until your next duty comes.
He rested for
what he believed to be two hours. The moon did not rise
now until late and he had no way of judging the time.
Nor was he really resting except comparatively. He was
still bearing the pull of the fish across his shoulders
but he placed his left hand on the gunwale of the bow
and confided more and more of the resistance to the fish
to the skiff itself.
How simple it
would be if I could make the line fast, he thought. But
with one small lurch he could break it. I must cushion
the pull of the line with my body and at all times be
ready to give line with both hands.
"But you have not
slept yet, old man," he said aloud. "It is half a day
and a night and now another day and you have not slept.
You must devise a way so that you sleep a little if he
is quiet and steady. If you do not sleep you might
become unclear in the head. "(sleep: Notice the
repetition of the word sleep. Gertrude Stein and
Hemingway discussed the importance of repletion in
I'm clear enough
in the head, he thought. Too clear. I am as clear as the
stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They
sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and
even the ocean
sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no
current and a flat calm.
But remember to
sleep, he thought. Make yourself do it and devise some
simple and sure way about the lines. Now go back and
prepare the dolphin. It is too dangerous to rig the oars
as a drag if you must sleep.
I could go
without sleeping, he told himself. But it would be too
He started to
work his way back to the stern on his hands and knees,
being careful not to jerk against the fish. He may be
half asleep himself, he thought. But I do not want him
to rest. He must pull until he dies.
Back in the stern
he turned so that his left hand held the strain of the
line across his shoulders and drew his knife from its
sheath with his right hand. The stars were bright now
and he saw the dolphin clearly and he pushed the blade
of his knife into his head and drew him out from under
the stern. He put one of his feet on the fish and slit
him quickly from the vent up to the tip of his lower
jaw. Then he put his knife down and gutted him with his
right hand, scooping him clean and pulling the gills
clear. He felt the maw heavy and slippery in his hands
and he slit it open. There were two flying fish inside.
They were fresh and hard and he laid them side by side
and dropped the guts and the gills over the stern. They
sank leaving a trail of phosphorescence in the water.
The dolphin was cold and a leprous gray-white now in the
starlight and the old man skinned one side of him while
he held his right foot on the fish's head. Then he
turned him over and skinned the other side and cut each
side off from the head down to the tail.(cold and a
leprous gray-white: Hemingway’s careful observation of
the appearance and manner of death is reflected here, as
in his other books.)
He slid the
carcass overboard and looked to see if there was any
swirl in the water. But there was only the light of its
slow descent. He turned then and placed the two flying
fish inside the two fillets of fish and putting his
knife back in its sheath, he worked his way slowly back
to the bow. His back was bent with the weight of the
line across it and he carried the fish in his right
Back in the bow
he laid the two fillets of fish out on the wood with the
flying fish beside them. After that he settled the line
across his shoulders in a new place and held it again
with his left hand resting on the gunwale. Then he
leaned over the side and washed the flying fish in the
water, noting the speed of the water against his hand.
His hand was phosphorescent from skinning the fish and
he watched the flow of the water against it. The flow
was less strong and as he rubbed the sides of his hand
against the planking of the skiff, particles of
phosphorus floated off and drifted slowly astern.
"He is tiring or
he is resting," the old man said. "Now let me get
through the eating of this dolphin and get some rest and
a little sleep. "
Under the stars
and with the night colder all the time he ate half of
one of the dolphin fillets and one of the flying fish,
gutted and with its head cut off.
" What an
excellent fish dolphin is to eat cooked," he said. "And
what a miserable fish raw. I will never go in a boat
again without salt or limes. "
If I had brains I
would have splashed water on the bow all day and drying,
would have made
salt, he thought. But then I did not hook the dolphin
until almost sunset. Still it was a lack of preparation.
But I have chewed it all well and I am not nauseated.
The sky was
clouding over to the east and one after another the
stars he knew were gone. It looked now as though he were
moving into a great canyon of clouds and the wind had
"There will be
bad weather in three or four days," he said. "But not
tonight and not tomorrow. Rig now to get some sleep, old
man, while the fish is calm and steady. "
He held the line
tight in his right hand and then pushed his thigh
against his right hand as he leaned all his weight
against the wood of the bow. Then he passed the line a
little lower on his shoulders and braced his left hand
My right hand can
hold it as long as it is braced, he thought. If it
relaxes in sleep my left hand will wake me as the line
goes out. It is hard on the right hand. But he is used
to punishment. Even if I sleep twenty minutes or a half
an hour it is good. He lay forward cramping himself
against the line with all of his body, putting all his
weight onto his right hand, and he was asleep.
He did not dream
of the lions but instead of a vast school of porpoises
that stretched for eight or ten miles and it was in the
time of their mating and they would leap high into the
air and return into the same hole they had made in the
water when they leaped.
Then he dreamed
that he was in the village on his bed and there was a
norther and he was very cold and his right arm was
asleep because his head had rested on it instead of a
After that he
began to dream of the long yellow beach and he saw the
first of the lions come down onto it in the early dark
and then the other lions came and he rested his chin on
the wood of the bows where the ship lay anchored with
the evening off-shore breeze and he waited to see if
there would be more lions and he was happy.
The moon had been
up for a long time but he slept on and the fish pulled
on steadily and the boat moved into the tunnel of
He woke with the
jerk of his right fist coming up against his face and
the line burning out through his right hand. He had no
feeling of his left hand but he braked all he could with
his right and the line rushed out. Finally his left hand
found the line and he leaned back against the line and
now it burned his back and his left hand, and his left
hand was taking all the strain and cutting badly. He
looked back at the coils of line and they were feeding
smoothly. Just then the fish jumped making a great
bursting of the ocean and then a heavy fall. Then he
jumped again and again and the boat was going fast
although line was still racing out and the old man was
raising the strain to breaking point and raising it to
breaking point again and again. He had been pulled down
tight onto the bow and his face was in the cut slice of
dolphin and he could not move.
This is what we
waited for, he thought. So now let us take it.
Make him pay for
the line, he thought. Make him pay for it.
He could not see
the fish's jumps but only heard the breaking of the
ocean and the
heavy splash as
he fell. The speed of the line was cutting his hands
badly but he had always known this would happen and he
tried to keep the cutting across the calloused parts and
not let the line slip into the palm nor cut the fingers.
If the boy was
here he would wet the coils of line, he thought. Yes. If
the boy were here. If the boy were here.
The line went out
and out and out but it was slowing now and he was making
the fish earn each inch of it. Now he got his head up
from the wood and out of the slice of fish that his
cheek had crushed. Then he was on his knees and then he
rose slowly to his feet. He was ceding line but more
slowly all the time. He worked back to where he could
feel with his foot the coils of line that he could not
see. There was plenty of line still and now the fish had
to pull the friction of all that new line through the
Yes, he thought.
And now he has jumped more than a dozen times and filled
the sacks along his back with air and he cannot go down
deep to die where I cannot bring him up. He will start
circling soon and then I must work on him. I wonder what
started him so suddenly? Could it have been hunger that
made him desperate, or was he frightened by something in
the night? Maybe he suddenly felt fear. But he was such
a calm, strong fish and he seemed so fearless and so
confident. It is strange.
"You better be
fearless and confident yourself, old man," he said.
"You're holding him again but you cannot get line. But
soon he has to circle. "
The old man held
him with his left hand and his shoulders now and stooped
down and scooped up water in his right hand to get the
crushed dolphin flesh off his face. He was afraid that
it might nauseate him and he would vomit and lose his
strength. When his face was cleaned he washed his right
hand in the water over the side and then let it stay in
the salt water while he watched the first light come
before the sunrise. He's headed almost east, he thought.
That means he is tired and going with the current. Soon
he will have to circle. Then our true work begins.
After he judged
that his right hand had been in the water long enough he
took it out and looked at it.
"It is not bad. "
he said. "And pain does not matter to a man. '
He took hold of
the line carefully so that it did not fit into any of
the fresh line cuts and shifted his weight so that he
could put his left hand into the sea on the other side
of the skiff.
"You did not do
so badly for something worthless," he said to his left
hand. "But there was a moment when I could not find you.
Why was I not
born with two good hands? He thought. Perhaps it was my
fault in not training that one properly. But God knows
he has had enough chances to learn. He did not do so
badly in the night, though, and he has only cramped
once. If he cramps again let the line cut him off.(The
treachery of the old man’s hand can be compared with the
treachery of body or spirit in the books about
When he thought
that he knew that he was not being clear-headed and he
thought he should chew some more of the dolphin. But I
can't, he told himself. It is better to be light-headed
than to lose your strength from nausea. And I know I
cannot keep it if I eat it since my face was in it. I
will keep it for an emergency until it goes bad. But it
is too late to try for strength now through nourishment.
You're stupid, he
told himself. Eat the other flying fish.
It was there,
cleaned and ready, and he picked it up with his left
hand and ate it chewing the bones carefully and eating
all of it down to the tail.
It has more
nourishment than almost any fish, he thought. At least
the kind of strength that I need. Now I have done what I
can, he thought. Let him begin to circle and let the
The sun was
rising for the third time since he had put to sea when
the fish started to circle.
He could not see
by the slant of the line that the fish was circling. It
was too early for that. He just felt a faint slackening
of the pressure of the line and he commenced to pull on
it gently with his right hand. It tightened, as always,
but just when he reached the point where it would break,
line began to come in. He slipped his shoulders and head
from under the line and began to pull in line steadily
and gently. He used both of his hands in a swinging
motion and tried to do the pulling as much as he could
with his body and his legs. His old legs and shoulders
pivoted with the swinging of the pulling.
"It is a very big
circle," he said. "But he is circling. "
Then the line
would not come in any more and he held it until he saw
the drops jumping from it in the sun. Then it started
out and the old man knelt down and let it go grudgingly
back into the dark water.
"He is making the
far part of his circle now," he said. I must hold all I
can, he thought. The strain will shorten his circle each
time. Perhaps in an hour I will see him. Now I must
convince him and then I must kill him.
But the fish kept
on circling slowly and the old man was wet with sweat
and tired deep into his bones two hours later. But the
circles were much shorter now and from the way the line
slanted he could tell the fish had risen steadily while
For an hour the
old man had been seeing black spots before his eyes and
the sweat salted his eyes and salted the cut over his
eye and on his forehead. He was not afraid of the black
spots. They were normal at the tension that he was
pulling on the line. Twice, though, he had felt faint
and dizzy and that had worried him.
"I could not fail
myself and die on a fish like this. " he said. "Now that
I have him coming so beautifully, God help me endure.
I'll say a hundred Our Fathers and a hundred Hail Marys.
But I cannot say them now. "
said, he thought. I'll say them later.
Just then he felt
a sudden banging and jerking on the line he held with
his two hands. It was sharp and hard-feeling and heavy.
He is hitting the
wire leader with his spear, he thought. That was bound
to come. He had to do that. It may make him jump though
and I would rather he stayed circling now. The jumps
were necessary for him to take air. But after that each
one can widen the opening of the hook wound and he can
throw the hook.
fish," he said. "Don't jump. "
The fish hit the
wire several times more and each time he shook his head
the old man gave up a little line.
I must hold his
pain where it is, he thought. Mine does not matter. I
can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad.
'After a while
the fish stopped beating at the wire and started
circling slowly again. The old man was gaining line
steadily now. But he felt faint again. He lifted some
sea water with his left hand and put it on his head.
Then he put more on and rubbed the back of his neck.
"I have no
cramps. " he said. "He'll be up soon and I can last. You
have to last. Don't even speak of it.
against the bow and, for a moment, slipped the line over
his back again. I'll rest now while he goes out on the
circle and then stand up and work on him when he comes
in, he decided.
It was a great
temptation to rest in the bow and let the fish make one
circle by himself without recovering any line. But when
the strain showed the fish had turned to come toward the
boat, the old man rose to his feet and started the
pivoting and the weaving pulling that brought in all the
line he gained.
I'm tireder than
I have ever been, he thought, and now the trade wind is
rising. But that will be good to take him in with. I
need that badly.
"I'll rest on the
next turn as he goes out," he said. "I feel much better.
Then in two or three turns more I will have him. "
His straw hat was
far on the back of his head and he sank down into the
bow with the pull of the line as he felt the fish turn.
You work now,
fish, he thought. I'll take you at the turn.
The sea had risen
considerably. But it was a fair-weather breeze and he
had to have it to get home.
"I'll just steer
south and west,." he said. "A man is never lost at sea
and it is a long island. "
It was on the
third turn that he saw the fish first.
He saw him first
as a dark shadow that took so long to pass under the
boat that he could not believe its length.
"No," he said.
"He can't be that big. "
But he was that
big and at the end of this circle he came to the surface
only thirty yards away and the man saw his tail out of
water. It was higher than a big scythe blade and a very
pale lavender above the dark blue water. It raked back
and as the fish swam just below the surface the old man
could see his huge bulk and the purple stripes that
banded him. His dorsal fin was down and his huge
pectorals were spread wide.
On this circle
the old man could see the fish's eye and the two gray
sucking fish that swam around him. Sometimes they
attached themselves to him. Sometimes they darted off.
Sometimes they would swim easily in his shadow. They
were each over three feet long and when they swam fast
they lashed their whole bodies like eels.
The old man was
sweating now but from something else besides the sun. On
each calm placid turn the fish made he was gaining line
and he was sure that in two turns more he would have a
chance to get the harpoon in.
But I must get
him close, close, close, he thought. I mustn't try for
the head. I
must get the
"Be calm and
strong, old man," he said.
On the next
circle the fish's back was out but he was a little too
far from the boat. On the next circle he was still too
far away but he was higher out of water and the old man
was sure that by gaining some more line he could have
He had rigged his
harpoon long before and its coil of light rope was in a
round basket and the end was made fast to the bitt in
The fish was
coming in on his circle now calm and beautiful looking
and only his great tail moving. The old man pulled on
him all that he could to bring him closer. For just a
moment the fish turned a little on his side. Then he
straightened himself and began another circle.
"I moved him,"
the old man said. "I moved him then. "
He felt faint
again now but he held on the great fish all the strain
that he could. I moved him, he thought. Maybe this time
I can get him over. Pull, hands, he thought. Hold up,
legs. Last for me, head. Last for me. You never went.
This time I'll pull him over.
But when he put
all of his effort on, starting it well out before the
fish came alongside and pulling with all his strength,
the fish pulled part way over and then righted himself
and swam away.
"Fish," the old
man said. "Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do
you have to kill me too?"
That way nothing
is accomplished, he thought. His mouth was too dry to
speak but he could not reach for the water now. I must
get him alongside this time, he thought. I am not good
for many more turns. Yes you are, he told himself.
You're good for ever.
On the next turn,
he nearly had him. But again the fish righted himself
and swam slowly away.
You are killing
me fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to.
Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a
calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on
and kill me. I do not care who kills who.
Now you are
getting confused in the head, he thought. You must keep
your head clear. Keep your head clear and know how to
suffer like a man. Or a fish, he thought.
"Clear up, head,"
he said in a voice he could hardly hear. "Clear up. "
Twice more it was
the same on the turns.
I do not know,
the old man thought. He had been on the point of feeling
himself go each time. I do not know. But I will try it
He tried it once
more and he felt himself going when he turned the fish.
The fish righted himself and swam off again slowly with
the great tail weaving in the air.
I'll try it
again, the old man promised, although his hands were
mushy now and he could only see well in flashes.
He tried it again
and it was the same. So, he thought, and he felt himself
going before he started; I will try it once again.
He took all his
pain and what was left of his strength and his long gone
pride and he put it against the fish's agony and the
fish came over onto his side and swam gently
on his side, his
bill almost touching the planking of the skiff and
started to pass the boat, long, deep, wide, silver and
barred with purple and interminable in the water.
The old man
dropped the line and put his foot on it and lifted the
harpoon as high as he could and drove it down with all
his strength, and more strength he had just summoned,
into the fish's side just behind the great chest fin
that rose high in the air to the altitude of the man's
chest. He felt the iron go in and he leaned on it and
drove it further and then pushed all his weight after
Then the fish
came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of
the water showing all his great length and width and all
his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air
above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the
water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and
over all of the skiff.
The old man felt
faint and sick and he could not see well. But he cleared
the harpoon line and let it run slowly through his raw
hands and, when he could see, he saw the fish was on his
back with his silver belly up. The shaft of the harpoon
was projecting at an angle from the fish's shoulder and
the sea was discoloring with the red of the blood from
his heart. First it was dark as a shoal in the blue
water that was more than a mile deep. Then it spread
like a cloud. The fish was silver and still and floated
with the waves.
The old man
looked carefully in the glimpse of vision that he had.
Then he took two turns of the harpoon line around the
bitt in the bow and laid his head on his hands.
"Keep my head
clear," he said against the wood of the bow. "I am a
tired old man. But I have killed this fish which is my
brother and now I must do the slave work. "
Now I must
prepare the nooses and the rope to lash him alongside,
he thought. Even if we were two and swamped her to load
him and bailed her out, this skiff would never hold him.
I must prepare everything, then bring him in and lash
him well and step the mast and set sail for home.
He started to
pull the fish in to have him alongside so that he could
pass a line through his gills and out his mouth and make
his head fast alongside the bow. I want to see him, he
thought, and to touch and to feel him. He is my fortune,
he thought. But that is not why I wish to feel him. I
think I felt his heart, he thought. When I pushed on the
harpoon shaft the second time. Bring him in now and make
him fast and get the noose around his tail and another
around his middle to bind him to the skiff.
"Get to work, old
man," he said. He took a very small drink of the water.
"There is very much slave work to be done now that the
fight is over. "
He looked up at
the sky and then out to his fish. He looked at the sun
carefully. It is not much more than noon, he thought.
And the trade wind is rising. The lines all mean nothing
now. The boy and I will splice them when we are home.
"Come on, fish,"
he said. But the fish did not come. Instead he lay there
wallowing now in the seas and the old man pulled the
skiff up onto him.
When he was even
with him and had the fish's head against the bow he
could not believe his size. But he untied the harpoon
rope from the bitt, passed it through the fish's gills
and out his jaws, made a turn around his sword then
passed the rope through the other gill, made another
turn around the bill and knotted the double
rope and made it
fast to the bitt in the bow. He cut the rope then and
went astern to noose the tail. The fish had turned
silver from his original purple and silver, and the
stripes showed the same pale violet color as his tail.
They were wider than a man's hand with his fingers
spread and the fish's eye looked as detached as the
mirrors in a periscope or as a saint in a procession.
"It was the only
way to kill him," the old man said. He was feeling
better since the water and he knew he would not go away
and his head was clear. He's over fifteen hundred pounds
the way he is, he thought. Maybe much more. If he
dresses out two-thirds of that at thirty cents a pound?
"I need a pencil
for that," he said. "My head is not that clear. But I
think the great DiMaggio would be proud of me today. I
had no bone spurs. But the hands and the back hurt
truly. " I wonder what a bone spur is, he thought. Maybe
we have them without knowing of it.
He made the fish
fast to bow and stern and to the middle thwart. He was
so big it was like lashing a much bigger skiff
alongside. He cut a piece of line and tied the fish's
lower jaw against his bill so his mouth would not open
and they would sail as cleanly as possible. Then he
stepped the mast and, with the stick that was his gaff
and with his boom rigged, the patched sail drew, the
boat began to move, and half lying in the stern he
sailed southwest.(boom: a long spar run out to extend
the foot of a sail.)
He did not need a
compass to tell him where southwest was. He only needed
the feel of the trade wind and the drawing of the sail.
I better put a small line out with a spoon on it and try
and get something to eat and drink for the moisture. But
he could not find a spoon and his sardines were rotten.
So he hooked a patch of yellow gulf weed with the gaff
as they passed and shook it so that the small shrimps
that were in it fell onto the planking of the skiff.
There were more than a dozen of them and they jumped and
kicked like sand fleas. The old man pinched their heads
off with his thumb and forefinger and ate them chewing
up the shells and the tails. They were very tiny but he
knew they were nourishing and they tasted good.
The old man still
had two drinks of water in the bottle and he used half
of one after he had eaten the shrimps. The skiff was
sailing well considering the handicaps and he steered
with the tiller under his arm. He could see the fish and
he had only to look at his hands and feel his back
against the stern to know that this had truly happened
and was not a dream. At one time when he was feeling so
badly toward the end, he had thought perhaps it was a
dream. Then when he had seen the fish come out of the
water and hang motionless in the sky before he fell, he
was sure there was some great strangeness and he could
not believe it. Then he could not see well, although now
he saw as well as ever.(tiller: a bar or lever attached
to the head of the rudder, to turn the rudder in
Now he knew there
was the fish and his hands and back were no dream. The
hands cure quickly, he thought. I bled them clean and
the salt water will heal them. The dark water of the
true gulf is the greatest healer that there is. All I
must do is keep the head clear. The hands have done
their work and we sail well. With his mouth shut
and his tail
straight up and down we sail like brothers. Then his
head started to become a little unclear and he thought,
is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in? If I were
towing him behind there would be no question. Nor if the
fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there
would be no question either. But they were sailing
together lashed side by side and the old man thought,
let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better
than him through trickery and he meant me no harm.(The
old man’s questioning of himself occurs in the paragraph
beginning “Now he knew…”) They sailed well and the old
man soaked his hands in the salt water and tried to keep
his head clear. There were high cumulus clouds and
enough cirrus above them so that the old man knew the
breeze would last all night. The old man looked at the
fish constantly to make sure it was true. It was an hour
before the first shark hit him.
The shark was not
an accident. He had come up from deep down in the water
as the dark cloud of blood had settled and dispersed in
the mile deep sea. He had come up so fast and absolutely
without caution that he broke the surface of the blue
water and was in the sun. Then he fell back into the sea
and picked up the scent and started swimming on the
course the skiff and the fish had taken.
Sometimes he lost
the scent. But he would pick it up again, or have just a
trace of it and he swam fast and hard on the course. He
was a very big Mako shark built to swim as fast as the
fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was
beautiful except his jaws. His back was as blue as a
sword fish's and his belly was silver and his hide was
smooth and handsome. He was built as a sword fish except
for his huge jaws which were tight shut now as he swam
fast, just under the surface with his high dorsal fin
knifing through the water without wavering. Inside the
closed double lip of his jaws all of his eight rows of
teeth were slanted inwards. They were not the ordinary
pyramid-shaped teeth of most sharks. They were shaped
like a man's fingers when they are crisped like claws.
They were nearly as long as the fingers of the old man
and they had razor-sharp cutting edges on both sides.
This was a fish built to feed on all the fishes in the
sea, that were so fast and strong and well armed that
they had no other enemy. Now he speeded up as he smelled
the fresher scent and his blue dorsal fin cut the water.
When the old man
saw him coming he knew that this was a shark that had no
fear at all and would do exactly what he wished. He
prepared the harpoon and made the rope fast while he
watched the shark come on. The rope was short as it
lacked what he had cut away to lash the fish.
The old man's
head was clear and good now and he was full of
resolution but he had little hope. It was too good to
last, he thought. He took one look at the great fish as
he watched the shark close in. It might as well have
been a dream, he thought. I cannot keep him from hitting
me but maybe I can get him. Dentuso, he thought. Bad
luck to your mother.(Dentuso: a term that the old man
applies to the Mako shark, referring perhaps to she
The shark closed
fast astern and when he hit the fish the old man saw his
mouth open and his strange eyes and the clicking chop of
the teeth as he drove forward in the meat just above the
tail. The shark's head was out of water and his back was
coming out and the old man could hear the noise of skin
and flesh ripping on the big fish
when he rammed
the harpoon down onto the shark's head at a spot where
the line between his eyes intersected with the line that
ran straight back from his nose. There were no such
lines. There was only the heavy sharp blue head and the
big eyes and the clicking, thrusting all-swallowing
jaws. But that was the location of the brain and the old
man hit it. He hit it with his blood mushed hands
driving a good harpoon with all his strength. He hit it
without hope but with resolution and complete
malignancy.(The description of the shark should be
compared with that of the marlin.)
The shark swung
over and the old man saw his eye was not alive and then
he swung over once again, wrapping himself in two loops
of the rope. The old man knew that he was dead but the
shark would not accept it. Then, on his back, with his
tail lashing and his jaws clicking, the shark plowed
over the water as a speed-boat does. The water was white
where his tail beat it and three-quarters of his body
was clear above the water when the rope came taut,
shivered, and then snapped. The shark lay quietly for a
little while on the surface and the old man watched him.
Then he went down very slowly.
"He took about
forty pounds," the old man said aloud. He took my
harpoon too and all the rope, he thought, and now my
fish bleeds again and there will be others.
He did not like
to look at the fish anymore since he had been mutilated.
When the fish had been hit it was as though he himself
But I killed the
shark that hit my fish, he thought. And he was the
biggest dentuso that I have ever seen. And God knows
that I have seen big ones.
It was too good
to last, he thought. I wish it had been a dream now and
that I had never hooked the fish and was alone in bed on
"But man is not
made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but
not defeated. "I am sorry that I killed the fish though,
he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even
have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and
strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than
he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only
"Don't think, old
man," he said aloud. "Sail on this course and take it
when it comes. "
But I must think,
he thought. Because it is all I have left. That and
baseball. I wonder how the great DiMaggio would have
liked the way I hit him in the brain? It was no great
thing, he thought. Any man could do it. But do you think
my hands were as great a handicap as the bone spurs? I
cannot know. I never had anything wrong with my heel
except the time the sting ray stung it when I stepped on
him when swimming and paralyzed the lower leg and made
the unbearable pain.
something cheerful, old man," he said. "Every minute now
you are closer to home. You sail lighter for the loss of
forty pounds. " He knew quite well the pattern of what
could happen when he reached the inner part of the
current. But there was nothing to be done now. "Yes
there is," he said aloud. "I can lash my knife to the
butt of one of the oars. " So he did that with the
tiller under his arm and the sheet of the sail under his
"Now," he said.
"I am still an old man. But I am not unarmed. "
The breeze was
fresh now and he sailed on well. He watched only the
forward part of the fish and some of his hope returned.
It is silly not to hope, he thought. Besides I believe
it is a sin. Do not think about sin, he thought. There
are enough problems now without sin. Also I have no
understanding of it.
I have no
understanding of it and I am not sure that I believe in
it. Perhaps it was a sin to kill the fish. I suppose it
was even though I did it to keep me alive and feed many
people. But then everything is a sin. Do not think about
sin. It is much too late for that and there are people
who are paid to do it. Let them think about it. You were
born to be a fisherman as the fish was born to be a
fish. San Pedro was a fisherman as was the father of the
great DiMaggio.(San Pedro: Saint Peter. It is worth
noticing that the old man ’s name, Santiago, means Saint
But he liked to
think about all things that he was involved in and since
there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio,
he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You
did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for
food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because
you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and
you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to
kill him. Or is it more?
"You think too
much, old man," he said aloud.
But you enjoyed
killing the dentuso, he thought.
He lives on the
live fish as you do. He is not a scavenger nor just a
moving appetite as some sharks are. He is beautiful and
noble and knows no fear of anything.
"I killed him in
self-defense," the old man said aloud. "And I killed him
thought, everything kills everything else in some way.
Fishing kills me exactly as it keeps me alive. The boy
keeps me alive, he thought. I must not deceive myself
too much.(The cryptic comments on killing are worth
He leaned over
the side and pulled loose a piece of the meat of the
fish where the shark had cut him. He chewed it and noted
its quality and its good taste. It was firm and juicy,
like meat, but it was not red. There was no springiness
in it and he knew that it would bring the highest price
in the market. But there was no way to keep its scent
out of the water and the old man knew that a very bad
time was coming.
The breeze was
steady. It had backed a little further into the
northeast and he knew that meant that it would not fall
off. The old man looked ahead of him but he could see no
sails nor could he see the hull nor the smoke of any
ship. There were only the flying fish that went up from
his bow sailing away to either side and the yellow
patches of gulf-weed. He could not even see a bird. He
had ailed for two hours, resting in the stern and
sometimes chewing a bit of the meat from the marlin,
trying to rest and to be strong, when he saw the first
of the two sharks.
"Ay," he said
aloud. There is no translation for this word and perhaps
it is just a noise such as a man might make,
involuntarily, feeling the nail go through his hands and
into the wood.
" Galanos. " he
said aloud. He had seen the second fin now coming up
behind the first and had identified them as shovel-nosed
sharks by the brown, triangular
fin and the
sweeping movements of the tail. They had the scent and
were excited and in the stupidity of their great hunger
they were losing and finding the scent in their
excitement. But they were closing all the time.(Galanos:
From the original meaning of fine, gallant, elegant, the
word may be used here with the sense of parti-colored.
There is a suggestion of deterioration, perhaps of
The old man made
the sheet fast and jammed the tiller. Then he took up
the oar with the knife lashed to it. He lifted it as
lightly as he could because his hands rebelled at the
pain. Then he opened and closed them on it lightly to
loosen them. He closed them firmly so they would take
the pain now and would not flinch and watched the sharks
come. He could see their wide, flattened, shovel-pointed
heads now and their white-tipped wide pectoral fins.
They were hateful sharks, bad smelling, scavengers as
well as killers, and when they were hungry they would
bite at an oar or the rudder of a boat. It was these
sharks that would cut the turtles' legs and flippers off
when the turtles were asleep on the surface, and they
would hit a man in the water, if they were hungry, even
if the man had no smell of fish blood nor of fish slime
"Ay," the old man
said. "Galanos. Come on Galanos. "
They came. But
they did not come as the Mako had come. One turned and
went out of sight under the skiff and the old man could
feel the skiff shake as he jerked and pulled on the
fish. The other watched the old man with his slitted
yellow eyes and then came in fast with his half circle
of jaws wide to hit the fish where he had already been
bitten. The line showed clearly on the top of his brown
head and back where the brain joined the spinal cord and
the old man drove the knife on the oar into the
juncture, withdrew it, and drove it in again into the
shark's yellow cat-like eyes. The shark let go of the
fish and slid down, swallowing what he had taken as he
The skiff was
still shaking with the destruction the other shark was
doing to the fish and the old man let go the sheet so
that the skiff would swing broadside and bring the shark
out from under. When he saw the shark he leaned over the
side and punched at him. He hit only meat and the hide
was set hard and he barely got the knife in. The blow
hurt not only his hands but his shoulder too. But the
shark came up fast and his head out and the old man hit
him squarely in the center of his flat-topped head as
his nose came out of water and lay against the fish. The
old man withdrew the blade and punched the shark exactly
in the same spot again. He still hung to the fish with
his jaws hooked and the old man stabbed him in his left
eye. The shark still hung there.
"No?" the old man
said and he drove the blade between the vertebrae and
the brain. It was an easy shot now and he felt the
cartilage sever. The old man reversed the oar and put
the blade between the shark's jaws to open them. He
twisted the blade and as the shark slid loose he said,
"Go on, galano. Slide down a mile deep. Go see your
friend, or maybe it's your mother. "
(Notice the old
man’s state of mind.)
The old man wiped
the blade of his knife and laid down the oar. Then he
found the sheet and the sail filled and he brought the
skiff onto her course.
"They must have
taken a quarter of him and of the best meat," he said
aloud. "I wish it were a dream and that I had never
hooked him. I'm sorry about it, fish. It makes
everything wrong. " He stopped and he did not want to
look at the fish now. Drained of blood and awash he
looked the color of the silver backing of a mirror and
his stripes still showed.
"I shouldn't have
gone out so far, fish," he said. "Neither for you nor
for me. I'm sorry, fish. "(“I shouldn’t have gone out so
far, fish”: This idea is repeated during the rest of the
Now, he said to
himself. Look to the lashing on the knife and see if it
has been cut. Then get your hand in order because there
still is more to come.
"I wish I had a
stone for the knife," the old man said after he had
checked the lashing on the oar butt. "I should have
brought a stone. " You should have brought many things,
he thought. But you did not bring them, old man. Now is
no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what
you can do with what there is.
" You give me
much good counsel," he said aloud. "I'm tired of it.
"(“You give me much good counsel”: To whom is this
He held the
tiller under his arm and soaked both his hands in the
water as the skiff drove forward.
"God knows how
much that last one took," he said. "But she's much
lighter now. " He did not want to think of the mutilated
under-side of the fish. He knew that each of the jerking
bumps of the shark had been meat torn away and that the
fish now made a trail for all sharks as wide as a
highway through the sea.
He was a fish to
keep a man all winter, he thought. Don't think of that.
Just rest and try to get your hands in shape to defend
what is left of him. The blood smell from my hands means
nothing now with all that scent in the water. Besides
they do not bleed much. There is nothing cut that means
anything. The bleeding may keep the left from cramping.
What can I think
of now? He thought. Nothing. I must think of nothing and
wait for the next ones. I wish it had really been a
dream, he thought. But who knows? It might have turned
The next shark
that came was a single shovel-nose. He came like a pig
to the trough if a pig had a mouth so wide that you
could put your head in it. The old man let him hit the
fish and then drove the knife on the oar down into his
brain. But the shark jerked backwards as he rolled and
the knife blade snapped.
The old man
settled himself to steer. He did not even watch the big
shark sinking slowly in the water, showing first
life-size, then small, then tiny. That always fascinated
the old man. But he did not even watch it now.
"I have the gaff
now," he said. "But it will do no good. I have the two
oars and the tiller and the short club. "
Now they have
beaten me, he thought. I am too old to club sharks to
death. But I will try it as long as I have the oars and
the short club and the tiller.
He put his hands
in the water again to soak them. It was getting late in
the afternoon and he saw nothing but the sea and the
sky. There was more wind in the sky than there had been,
and soon he hoped that he would see land.
old man," he said. "You're tired inside. "
The sharks did
not hit him again until just before sunset.
The old man saw
the brown fins coming along the wide trail the fish must
make in the water. They were not even quartering on the
scent. They were headed straight for the skiff swimming
side by side.
He jammed the
tiller, made the sheet fast and reached under the stern
for the club. It was an oar handle from a broken oar
sawed off to about two and a half feet in length. He
could only use it effectively with one hand because of
the grip of the handle and he took good hold of it with
his right hand, flexing his hand on it, as he watched
the sharks come. They were both galanos.
I must let the
first one get a good hold and hit him on the point of
the nose or straight across the top of the head, he
The two sharks
closed together and as he saw the one nearest him open
his jaws and sink them into the silver side of the fish,
he raised the club high and brought it down heavy and
slamming onto the top of the shark's broad head. He felt
the rubbery solidity as the club came down. But he felt
the rigidity of bone too and he struck the shark once
more hard across the point of the nose as he slid down
from the fish.
The other shark
had been in and out and now came in again with his jaws
wide. The old man could see pieces of the meat of the
fish spilling white from the corner of his jaws as he
bumped the fish and closed his jaws. He swung at him and
hit only the head and the shark looked at him and
wrenched the meat loose. The old man swung the club down
on him again as he slipped away to swallow and hit only
the heavy solid rubberiness.
"Come on, galano.
" the old man said. "Come in again. "
The shark came in
a rush and the old man hit him as he shut his jaws. He
hit him solidly and from as high up as he could raise
the club. This time he felt the bone at the base of the
brain and he hit him again in the same place while the
shark tore the meat loose sluggishly and slid down from
The old man
watched for him to come again but neither shark showed.
Then he saw one on the surface swimming in circles. He
did not see the fin of the other.
I could not
expect to kill them, he thought. I could have in my
time. But I have hurt them both badly and neither one
can feel very good. If I could have used a bat with two
hands I could have killed the first one surely. Even
now, he thought.
He did not want
to look at the fish. He knew that half of him had been
destroyed. The sun had gone down while he had been in
the fight with the shark.
"It will be dark
soon," he said. "Then I should see the glow of Havana.
If I am too far to the eastward I will see the lights of
one of the new beaches. "
I cannot be too
far out now, he thought. I hope no one has been too
worried. There is only the boy to worry, of course. But
I am sure he would have confidence. Many of the older
fishermen will worry. Many others too, he thought. I
live in a good town.
He could not talk
to the fish anymore because the fish had been ruined too
badly. Then something came into his head.
"Half fish," he
said. "Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too
far out. I
ruined us both.
But we have killed many sharks, you and I, and ruined
many others. How many did you ever kill, old fish? You
do not have that spear on your head for nothing. "
He liked to think
of the fish and what he could do to a shark if he were
swimming free. I should have chopped the bill off to
fight them with, he thought. But there was no hatchet
and then there was no knife.
But if I had, and
could have lashed it to an oar butt, what a weapon. Then
we might have fought them together. What will you do now
if they come in the night? What can you do?
"Fight them," he
said. "I'll fight them until I die. "
But in the dark
now and no glow showing and no lights and only the wind
and the steady pull of the sail he felt that perhaps he
was already dead. He put his two hands together and felt
the palms. They were not dead and he could bring the
pain of life by simply opening and closing them. He
leaned his back against the stern and he knew he was not
dead. His shoulders told him.(The ceremonial posture of
the old man’s hands here and elsewhere has been
interpreted by Carlos Baker as a suggestion of
crucifixion---an extremity of suffering.)
I have all those
prayers I promised if I caught the fish, he thought. But
I am too tired to say them now. I better get the sack
and put it over my shoulders.
He lay in the
stern and steered and watched for the glow to come in
the sky. I have half of him, he thought. Maybe I'll have
the luck to bring the forward half in. I should have
some luck. No, he said. You violated your luck when you
went too far outside.
"Don't be silly,"
he said aloud. "And keep awake and steer. You may have
much luck yet. "
"I'd like to buy
some if there's any place they sell it," he said.
What could I buy
it with? He asked himself. Could I buy it with a lost
harpoon and a broken knife and two bad hands?
"You might," he
said. "You tried to buy it with eighty-four days at sea.
They nearly sold it to you too.'
I must not think
nonsense, he thought. Luck is a thing that comes in many
forms and who can recognize her? I would take some
though in any form and pay what they asked. I wish I
could see the glow from the lights, he thought. I wish
too many things. But that is the thing I wish for now.
He tried to settle more comfortably to steer and from
his pain he knew he was not dead.
He saw the
reflected glare of the lights of the city at what must
have been around ten o'clock at night. They were only
perceptible at first as the light is in the sky before
the moon rises. Then they were steady to see across the
ocean which was rough now with the increasing breeze. He
steered inside of the glow and he thought that now,
soon, he must hit the edge of the stream.
Now it is over,
he thought. They will probably hit me again. But what
can a man do against them in the dark without a weapon?
He was stiff and
sore now and his wounds and all of the strained parts of
his body hurt with the cold of the night. I hope I do
not have to fight again, he thought. I hope so much I do
not have to fight again.
But by midnight
he fought and this time he knew the fight was useless.
They came in a pack and he could only see the lines in
the water that their fins made and their phosphorescence
as they threw themselves on the fish. He clubbed at
heads and heard the jaws chop and the shaking of the
skiff as they took hold below. He clubbed desperately at
what he could only feel and hear and he felt something
seize the club and it was gone.
He jerked the
tiller free from the rudder and beat and chopped with
it, holding it in both hands and driving it down again
and again. But they were up to the bow now and driving
in one after the other and together, tearing off the
pieces of meat that showed glowing below the sea as they
turned to come once more.
finally, against the head itself and he knew that it was
over. He swung the tiller across the shark's head where
the jaws were caught in the heaviness of the fish's head
which would not tear. He swung it once and twice and
again. He heard the tiller break and he lunged at the
shark with the splintered butt. He felt it go in and
knowing it was sharp he drove it in again. The shark let
go and rolled away. That was the last shark of the pack
that came. There was nothing more for them to eat.
The old man could
hardly breathe now and he felt a strange taste in his
mouth. It was coppery and sweet and he was afraid of it
for a moment. But there was not much of it. He spat into
the ocean and said, "Eat that, Galanos. And make a dream
you've killed a man. "
He knew he was
beaten now finally and without remedy and he went back
to the stern and found the jagged end of the tiller
would fit in the slot of the rudder well enough for him
to steer. He settled the sack around his shoulders and
put the skiff on her course. He sailed lightly now and
he had no thoughts nor any feelings of any kind. He was
past everything now and he sailed the skiff to make his
home port as well and as intelligently as he could. In
the night sharks hit the carcass as someone might pick
up crumbs from the table. The old man paid no attention
to them and did not pay any attention to anything except
steering. He only noticed how lightly and how well the
skiff sailed now there was no great weight beside
her.(He knew he was beaten now: The denouncement
indicates that this is not true, except in the limited
sense of the conflict with the sharks.)
She's good, he
thought. She is sound and not harmed in any way except
for the tiller. That is easily replaced.
He could feel he
was inside the current now and he could see the lights
of the beach colonies along the shore. He knew where he
was now and it was nothing to get home.
The wind is our
friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes.
And the great sea with our friends and our enemies. And
bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought.
Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are
beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And
what beat you, he thought.
said aloud. "I went out too far. "
When he sailed
into the little harbor the lights of the Terrace were
out and he knew everyone was in bed. The breeze had
risen steadily and was blowing strongly now. It was
quiet in the harbor though and he sailed up onto the
little patch of shingle below the rocks. There was no
one to help him so he pulled the boat up as far as he
could. Then he stepped out and made her fast to a rock.
He unstepped the
mast and furled the sail and tied it. Then he shouldered
the mast and started to climb. It was then he knew the
depth of his tiredness. He stopped for a moment and
looked back and saw in the reflection from the street
light the great tail of the fish standing up well behind
the skiff's stern. He saw the white naked line of his
backbone and the dark mass of the head with the
projecting bill and all the nakedness between.
He started to
climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time
with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get up.
But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast
on his shoulder and looked at the road. A cat passed on
the far side going about its business and the old man
watched it. Then he just watched the road.
Finally he put
the mast down and stood up. He picked the mast up and
put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He had
to sit down five times before he reached his shack.
Inside the shack
he leaned the mast against the wall. In the dark he
found a water bottle and took a drink. Then he lay down
on the bed. He pulled the blanket over his shoulders and
then over his back and legs and he slept face down on
the newspapers with his arms out straight and the palms
of his hands up.
He was asleep
when the boy looked in the door in the morning. It was
blowing so hard that the drifting-boats would not be
going out and the boy had slept late and then come to
the old man's shack as he had come each morning. The boy
saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the
old man's hands and he started to cry. He went out very
quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down
the road he was crying.
were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside
it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up,
measuring the skeleton with a length of line.
The boy did not
go down. He had been there before and one of the
fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.
"How is he?" one
of the fishermen shouted.
boy called. He did not care that they saw him crying.
"Let no one disturb him. "
"He was eighteen
feet from nose to tail," the fisherman who was measuring
"I believe it,"
the boy said.
He went into the
Terrace and asked for a can of coffee.
"Hot and with
plenty of milk and sugar in it. "
"No. Afterwards I
will see what he can eat. "
"What a fish it
was," the proprietor said. "There has never been such a
fish. Those were two fine fish you took yesterday too. "
"Damn my fish,"
the boy said and he started to cry again.
"Do you want a
drink of any kind?" the proprietor asked.
" No, " the boy
said. " Tell them not to bother Santiago. I'll be back.
"Tell him how
sorry I am. "
"Thanks," the boy
The boy carried
the hot can of coffee up to the old man's shack and sat
by him until he woke. Once it looked as though he were
waking. But he had gone back into heavy sleep and the
boy had gone across the road to borrow some wood to heat
Finally the old
"Don't sit up. "
the boy said. "Drink this. " He poured some of the
coffee in a glass.
The old man took
it and drank it.
"They beat me,
Manolin," he said. "They truly beat me. "
"He didn't beat
you. Not the fish. "
"No. Truly. It
was afterwards. "
looking after the skiff and the gear. What do you want
done with the head?"
"Let Pedrico chop
it up to use in fish traps. "
"And the spear?"
"You keep it if
you want it. "
"I want it," the
boy said. "Now we must make our plans about the other
"Did they search
"Of course. With
coast guard and with planes. "
"The ocean is
very big and a skiff is small and hard to see," the old
man said. He noticed how pleasant it was to have someone
to talk to instead of speaking only to himself and to
the sea. "I missed you," he said. "What did you catch?"
"One on the first
day. One the second and two the third. "
"Very good. "
"Now we fish
together again. "
"No. I am not
lucky. I am not lucky anymore. "
"The hell with
luck," the boy said. "I'll bring the luck with me. "
"What will your
"I do not care. I
caught two yesterday. But we will fish together now for
I still have much to learn. "
"We must get a
good killing lance and always have it on board. You can
make the blade from a spring leaf from an old Ford. We
can grind it in Guanabacoa. It should be sharp and not
tempered so it will break. My knife broke. "(Guanabacoa:
a city near Havana.)
"I'll get another
knife and have the spring ground. How many days of heavy
brisa have we?"
Maybe more. "
"I will have
everything in order," the boy said. "You get your hands
well old man.
" "I know how to
care for them. In the night I spat something strange and
felt something in my chest was broken. "
"Get that well
too," the boy said. "Lie down, old man, and I will bring
you your clean shirt. And something to eat. "
"Bring any of the
papers of the time that I was gone," the old man said.
"You must get
well fast for there is much that I can learn and you can
teach me everything. How much did you suffer?"
"Plenty," the old
"I'll bring the
food and the papers," the boy said. "Rest well, old man.
I will bring stuff from the drugstore for your hands. "
"Don't forget to
tell Pedrico the head is his. "
"No. I will
As the boy went
out the door and down the worn coral rock road he was
there was a party of tourists at the Terrace and looking
down in the water among the empty beer cans and dead
barracudas a woman saw a great long white spine with a
huge tail at the end that lifted and swung with the tide
while the east wind blew a heavy steady sea outside the
entrance to the harbor.
she asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of
the great fish that was now just garbage waiting to go
out with the tide.
waiter said, "Eshark. " He was meaning to explain what
"I didn't know
sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails. "
either," her male companion said.
Up the road, in
his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still
sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him
watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions.