The Voices Dying with a Dying Flutter; or, Without Apologies to Either T. S. Eliot or Heddon Lures


The lakes here in Minnesota attained the liquid phase a couple of months ago. The storms have relented, and I have been able to get out from time to time for some fishing. I have been fishing on Lake Calhoun (incidentally) and Lake of the Isles (principally): I launch my kayak on Lake Calhoun, just a block or so from my house, and then paddle over to Lake of the Isles.

I have been having, for me, quite reasonable success. I cannot claim to be the most skilled of anglers, but I have been catching bass (and even one very aggressive carp–as described here by my alter ego–or, perhaps more accurately, my alter id).

I’ve been fishing in the late afternoons and evenings, and I’ve had especially good luck on prop baits. Prop baits are topwater lures with small propellers (actually spinners: they do not, of course, actually propel the lures) at either the back of the lure or on both ends.

This photograph shows one of my new prop baits: a Heddon Dying Flutter. Heddon is a very old lure company. I have read a claim that James Heddon, the founder, was the first person to market artificial lures (not including flies).

It may be true that Heddon was the first to market artificial lures, but it is indisputable that anglers have been using artificial lures for millennia. In fact, in book 24 of the Iliad Homer uses an analogy that describes an artificial lure made of ox horn.

The great translator Robert Fagles offered the following translation of the relevant passage:

“Down she plunged to the bottom fast as a lead weight
sheathed in a glinting lure of wild bull’s horn.”

(Homer, The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles [London: Penguin, 1990], 591.)

Another great translator, Robert Fitzgerald, offered the following translation of the same passage:

“[D]own she plunged
. . .
as rapidly as a leaden sinker, fixed
on a lure of wild bull’s horn, that glimmers down
with a fatal hook among the ravening fish.”

(Homer, The Iliad, trans. Robert Fitzgerald [Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor /Doubleday, 1974], 570.)

Alexander Pope was one of the great poets of the English language. But his infelicitous translation of the Homeric passage suggests that he was no angler:

“As bearing death in the fallacious bait,
From the bent angle sinks the leaden weight.”

(Homer, The Iliad, trans. Alexander Pope [1721; New York: Heritage Pr., 1943], 455.)

Let me ask you to indulge me in another digression. In reading about the history of fishing lures, I learned of Aelian, a second-century Roman who described fly-fishing in Macedonia. (And wouldn’t that make a great book title: Fly-Fishing in Macedonia. Heck, I’ll buy it now.)

An online source provides the following translation of Aelian’s description of the Macedonian fly: “They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax.”

Red body, pale wings: I thought immediately of the Royal Coachman pattern.

When I lived in Oregon, I did a lot of fly-fishing in the rivers and streams in the lower Willamette Valley. I often used a Royal Wulff, which is very similar to the Royal Coachman, but a little more robust. I was typically fishing pretty fast streams, and I tried to drop my flies in the seam between faster water and slower water behind obstructions. The Royal Wulff pattern was excellent for those conditions: I could see it in the tumbling water, and trout seemed to like it.

Let me now digress from my digression. The photograph at the top of this post shows a Heddon Dying Flutter, which is a discontinued lure. I bought this one on eBay, new in the blister package. Heathen that I am, I cut open the blister package almost immediately. I intend to use this lure–not keep it as some sort of trophy in itself.

The name of the lure describes the intended effect. The angler is supposed to cast the lure to a likely spot and then twitch it from time to time, slowly reeling it in. Each twitch will cause the lure to thrash, the props to spin. It resembles a small fish, dying on the surface of the water–and thus an easy and tasty meal for a predator such as a bass.

More important, the lure’s name immediately reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot:

“I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.”

The phrase “dying fall” in “Prufrock” itself derives from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1.1.1-4):
“If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again, it had a dying fall.”

Somewhere I recall reading or hearing that, in “Prufrock,” the phrase “dying fall” also alludes to la petite mort–that is, the “little death,” a euphemism for orgasm.

Perhaps this is all too much to heap onto a simple image of a lure. But, in some way, everything is connected with everything. Let us tug at a thread–and keep tugging. See where it will lead you.

And my own observation that “everything is connected with everything”: I am reminded of Eliot’s great poem The Waste Land, which includes these lines:

“On Margate Sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.”

Anyone who has ever suffered from depression will understand the force and meaning of those lines.

“Running on Empty”

I’ve been feeling this way of late.

But let me note that this is such a great song. The lyrics are wonderful, and Jackson Browne is a very fine vocalist. And David Lindley’s lap steel work is incredible.

Feeling a Bit Under the Water; or, Objective Correlative, Defined; or, Pathetic Fallacy, Defined


I haven’t been doing much photography of late. I have been, for various reasons, in a bit of a blue spell, and not in a Picassovian* manner.

Yesterday evening I went fishing on Lake of the Isles, which is not far from my home here in Minneapolis. I embarked from the western bank of Lake Calhoun in my little kayak and paddled across the lake and through the channel to Lake of the Isles. I fished for a time around the two small islands that give the lake its name.

The water has been high for some time now. I found this sign on the bank of the more westerly of the two islands.

This is just a snapshot, of course, taken with a Samsung WB150 point-and-shoot camera. I don’t trust myself to take one of my better cameras with me when I go fishing.

* I’m sure that there is some other adjective–perhaps Picassoesque. I prefer my coinage.