The Fisherman by Johann Wolfgang Goethe - Essay Sample

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825 words
Middlebury College
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Creative writing
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The Fisherman is a poem composed by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in1778 (Von Goethe, 2016). It is centered on a fisherman who encounters a mermaid while fishing. He is attracted to her beauty at first-sight and follows her into the water after she entices him. He is never to be seen again! The poet does not conclusively point out what happened to him leaving that interpretation to the reader.

Initial Thoughts

The Fisherman is a poem portraying a fisherman sitting on the bank of a river waiting calmly to catch fish. The rushing and the swelling of the water do not disturb him maybe perhaps because he is used to fishing on this site. However, he is surprised by the emergence of a beautiful woman from the waters but instantly falls in love with her. His intense yearning to be with the woman is his peril as the mermaid easily convinces him to join her into the deep waters where he most likely drowns. The anticipation of having found love compromises his reasoning, and he cannot prevent himself from drowning.

Aspect of Interest

In the poem, the poet used imagery effectively. In the first line of stanza one, the majesty of the waters is painted vividly by the use of words such as roared" and "swelling, i.e., "The water roared, the water swelled." The sky, the sun, the moon and the dew are used by the mermaid to lure the fisherman into the water (Von Goethe, 2016). These items are a reflection of the beauty of the earth, and by being used, the fisherman paints the water as a beautiful place he will reside in with his new love. The Sun symbolizes warmth and life because without the sunshine there would be no plants. The moon symbolizes calmness. The sky symbolizes the heavens and what lies beyond humans. Moreover, the dew symbolizes a rebirth or new beginnings.

Historical Context

In 1776, there was the passage of the Declaration of Independence states in the U.S.A where American colonies were seeking independence from British rule (Anderson, 2014). It called for the right to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone. A copy of the declaration was sent to Europe, and ordinary people became enlightened about their rights. Everyone felt empowered to pursue his or her happiness.

Insight into the Work

Before publishing "The Fisherman," Goethe had released other works which included "Faust I and The Sorrows of Young Werther (Von Goethe, 2016). He had a close friend -Christiane, whom critics argue might have been an inspiration behind the poem, The Fisherman. The man she loved had rejected Christiane. She ended up killing herself but not before she had read The Sorrows of Young Werther. The book was found on her dead body and might have influenced her to commit suicide (Von Goethe, 2016). This incidence affected Goethe, as was the increase in suicide cases around the same time, some of which were blamed on the book. That explains the subject matter of the poem. The fisherman is lured to his death by the mermaid.

Exploration of Particular Themes

The use of themes in the poem is the key towards understanding the intended message by the author (Anderson, 2014). "The fisherman" is based on the topic of love. When the fisherman encounters the mermaid, it is love at first sight. The fisherman has awaited for a meaningful relationship and believes he has finally found love. As the mermaid starts descending into the water, the fisherman fears to lose his only chance to true love. He opts to follow the mermaid into the water even though he knows he cannot breathe under water. Or else, he is hoping that the mermaid will preserve his life or better off prevent him from drowning. On the contrary, the fisherman might just be blinded by his "love" and that he cannot see the danger he is putting himself in. But as they say "Love is blind."

Relevance of the Work

This poem is significant to todays audience in that it warns people of the dangers of rushing into relationships without really knowing the other partner. Physical attraction, infatuation, and lust should not be used as a basis to commit to serious relationships with someone (Anderson, 2014). Relationships based on such grounds are toxic and can destroy a persons life. Genuine love is crucial if a relationship is to survive the test of time.

Effect of Analysis on Perception

On analyzing the poem, my view about the toxic relationship has been enhanced. While individuals are quick to blame each other when their relationship deteriorates, it is important to remember that both partners are to blame. One partner might not be instigating the strife in the relationship but just accepting everything one is told without thinking logically also make you responsible for the breakup as well.


Anderson, M. S. (2014). Europe in the Eighteenth Century 1713-1789. Routledge.

Von Goethe, J. W. (2016). The Essential Goethe. Princeton University Press.


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