"The Biggest Fish I Caught Got Away"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poet says that often when he fished for minnows as a young boy, he would return with a puny catch and with the tale that the biggest fish he had caught had got away. As he grew older and fished for the larger species, he had the same bad luck of somehow losing the biggest fish. Other things in life–"the honors and the sweet things of human life"–are the same, the poet says, and with those, too, we finally conclude, as we grow old, that the biggest prizes have eluded us. The poet says he would not change this situation, because a worthier person may come along, capture the prize that eluded him, and perhaps bless the man who was not able to obtain it earlier. The poet expresses the theme in an account of his fishing experiences as a boy:

Sometimes it was the rusty hooks, sometimes the fragile lines,
And many times the treacherous reeds would foil my just designs;
But whether hooks or lines or reeds were actually to blame,
I kept right on at losing all the monsters just the same–
I never lost a little fish–yes, I am free to say
It always was the biggest fish I caught that got away.