The Trout's Lament
Alas, I am caught! Oh, woe is me, the day I have so long dreaded has finally arrived. Please, I beg of you, remove the stinging hook from my jaw! Oh, it pokes me so! Ah, thank you, friend. You are a just and merciful captor, and it is all I can do to surrender to you honorably and accept my fate. But wait! Do not break my head just yet! I must commend you, before you kill me: your lure was quite convincing. Did you make it yourself? No? Well, even so, I must compliment your discretion in buying lures. It is apparent to me that you are an experienced hunter, for a novice would never have been so wise as to pick that lure.
Wait! Please, put me down! Do not dash my head against the hard seat of your boat! I am sorry that I flattered you so extravagantly. Please! I assure you that my compliments were sincere! Many fishermen have tried to catch me, sir, but you are the first with the talent and wiles to complete the task. You are wise and hearty man to be out on the lake so early, just as dawn is spreading her dappled glow upon the water. Please, before you kill me, allow me to look upon the water from the outside! It is a perspective I rarely enjoy. Ah, it is beautiful! I envy you, human. You can see such sights whenever you please, and I must be confined to the dark, murky depths.
I beg of you, sir, I would love to continue our illuminating conversation, but my gills are so dry! Could you find it in your heart to dip me into the lake for only a moment, so that I might catch my breath? I give you my word as a trout and as a gentleman that I shall not attempt to wriggle from your grasp. No? Ah, I suppose it was too much to ask. I suppose there are limits to the compassion and mercy of men, and I apologize for asking you to do something which exceeds your humanity. Again, I am sorry; I heard tales that men were the most compassionate of creatures, and that they would go to some lengths to ensure that their prey did not suffer unjustly, but I suppose the thing that I ask, to merely be dipped in the lake for a moment, is too complicated a task. It is too much to ask, I suppose, even if it might ease my suffering and allow me to breathe one last breath of sweet fresh water. Even if it might stop my poor throat from seizing and choking. Please excuse my coughing, I am in great pain.
What is that? You will? Oh, human, you are the kindest of souls, I promise that in the afterlife I shall seek out your god and tell him of your compassion. Oh, I thank you! A thousand thanks to you!
A thousand thanks!
Oh! Please, do not squeeze me so! I was not attempting to wrest myself from your grasp, I swear to it! When I touched the cold water, my body merely seized in an involuntary spasm! I swear! I am an honorable trout; I would never betray your confidence by trying to escape! You caught me fairly and legally, and I bear no ill will to you. I am resigned to my death. I would not dream of using deception to circumvent it, and I am insulted that you would imply such a thing.
I feel like we understand each other. Men must eat too, just like any creature. They must scour and hunt for their food, and if you allowed compassion to cloud your judgment, you would surely starve. Am I correct? Will you not starve if you release me? Will your family not starve? No!? Well, I am sure that there is some reason why you have chosen to pluck me from my happy home and eat me, instead of simply buying food with the ample money that you have at your disposal. After all, I amount to no more than a pound or two of meat. Does my flesh contain some vital nutrient that you cannot find anywhere else? Will you waste away and suffer if you don’t eat me?
Please! Wait! Do not smash my poor skull just yet! I meant no offense! I did not mean to goad you and imply that your motives were dishonorable. I was merely trying to understand your motivation for fooling me into biting a painful lure which ripped through my flesh and then pulling me into a boat where I had no water to breathe. I am merely trying to understand why my flesh is so special to you that you would smash my head against the seat of your boat and murder me so that you could enjoy the scant amount of meat on my meager frame… Oh, I forgive me; I am running out of breath once more, and my gills burn with a pain which cannot be described. I apologize for saying so, friend. I know that you are too kind a man to wish any suffering upon me. I shouldn’t burden you with my pain, oh, my unbearable pain…
Pray, will you dip me in the water once more? I swear to you upon everything sacred that I will not wriggle again! No? Yes, I suppose that is understandable. From your perspective, it must have appeared that I tried to escape last time. I’m sure that I must have offended you. Please forgive me. I do not wish to die on bad terms with my captor.
No, no, say no more. I understand. You hate me. You think I tried to escape, and you hate me. Silence! Do not insult my intelligence! I know that you do. I do not blame you for despising me. You are an intelligent man, a kind and just man. You believe that I attempted to take advantage of your compassion. From your perspective, I must seem like a horrible, deceptive little creature. I understand perfectly if you no longer wish to eat me, lest my awful corruption spread into your belly. You must think I’m a cowardly little liar. Oh, please, forgive me if I cry. I cannot bear the thought of one so compassionate and noble as you having such a low opinion of me.
You don’t? I am so relieved! You are a true friend! Please, since we are friends, will you ease my passing by dipping me into the water just once more, so that I may die with fresh water in my gills? It would make my death so much more bearable.
Very well, I understand and accept your refusal. It is a great disappointment to me, for unless a trout dies with fresh water in his gills, he cannot be admitted into trout heaven. I understand that the afterlife of such an insignificant creature as me holds little interest for an important man such as you. I do not blame you for condemning me to eternal suffering in trout hell by refusing to dip me in my beloved home just once more, just for one more fleeting second. I know how trifling an act it would be to you, a man, a creature with much greater concerns. Very well. Bash my head upon the seat of your boat. Condemn me to an eternity of fiery torture. It is my destiny, I suppose, never to reunite with my family in the afterlife.
Please, hurry! Dip me in the water so that I may wet my gills one last time!
Oh, thank you, thank you! You will not regret your decision to show a small creature such mercy. I shall spread your name far and wide in the afterlife, and every trout shall know that you are a wonderful and caring man, and the god of trout will smile upon you and bless your further fishing expeditions. Please, hurry! Dip me in the water so that I may wet my gills one last time!
Wait! Wait! Please! I was not trying to escape! I merely saw my wife under the water, and was violently thrashing my tail to signal to her that I loved her! I never said goodbye to her! Please, won’t you dip me in the water just once more, so that I might tell her I love her?
No! I beg of you! Do not bash my head! I have wishes! Wishes! You have passed the test of compassion, and I will grant you wishes and riches and magic powers! This was a test of your mercy! The trout god sent me to see if you were a kind and merciful human, so that he might bestow untold power and wealth upon you! He told me he would grant you three wishes if you allowed me to live! If you put me back in the water I will go back and report to him directly!
Stop! Consider it! Just by releasing one modest little fish, you could make all your wildest fantasies into reality! The order of the universe would be realigned to your whims! You could wish for a thousand more trout to eat, if only you released me! Think of it! If you regretted your decision to release me, you could even wish to have me back! Release me, friend, and all of your dreams shall—