The central poem of the series takes the form of a dialogue between Thelgon and Chromis, which is to say, between the elder and (as Frank S. Kastor argues) the younger Giles Fletcher. Young Giles tells his father, who had commented on his neglect of poetry, "when the fishers trade, once highly priz'd, | And justly honour'd in those better times, | By every lozel-groom I see despis'd; | No marvel if I hate my jocond rimes." The "fisher's trade" is the clerical life, and the poem reflects on corruption in the Church in lines that John Milton would recall when he came to write Lycidas. Thus Thelgon scornfully remarks, "Some deaf, yet eares; some dumbe, yet tongues will be: | Dumbe, deaf, lame, blinde, and maim'd; yet fishers all."
Alexander Fraser Tytler: "Thelgon and Chromis lament the degeneracy of the times, when the name and employment of a fisher is become despicable and opprobrious. Under this allegory is couched a complaint of the corruption and shameful life of the clergy: Their neglect of their charges; their oppression of their inferiors; and their haughtiness and uncontrouled ambition, are severely touch'd upon. Thelgon draws a parallel between these and the primitive heads of the church; and concludes, exhorting his friend, from the greatest of all examples, to persevere with a constancy in his employment" Piscatorie Eclogs and Poetical Miscellanies (1771) 52.
Herbert E. Cory: "The Piscatorie Eglogs were written at the time when Fletcher was painfully turning away from his love-lyrics to fervent religious poetry full of a sensuous love for Christ, and bitter with the rank gall of his hatred for the Catholic Church. In point of style they represent a change from his earlier devotion to the Shepheards Calender, and are more full of the midsummer music of the Faerie Queene than of the thin April pipings of Spenser's eclogues. In the Purple Island, the ingenious and eccentric, though often beautiful epic in which Fletcher celebrated the glories of man's body and soul and of his Maker, the pastoral setting and the characters of the Piscatorie Eglogs were largely retained to begin and to close each canto" "Spenserian Pastoral" PMLA 25 (1910) 261.
A. A. Jack: "Indeed, pitching the whole to sober piscatory note, the poet, throughout, preserves his own manner and sings his own song. In Fletcher's poems there is nothing of Spenser's richness; the feeling is even thin, as if it had to be spread to cover prolixity" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 308.
Frank S. Kastor: "A dialogue between Thelgon and Chromis about 'the fishers trade' (the ministry), and about how it has become 'the common badge of scorn and shame': this poem is the only religious eclogue. For a number of reasons it appears to have been the last written.... Thelgon is Giles, Sr.; Algon, Phineas; and Chromis, a younger poet and priest, who 'dost like so well ... The Prince of fishers,' is undoubtedly Giles Jr." Giles and Phineas Fletcher (1978) 86.
The last speech is ascribed in the margin to "Algon," presumably a printer's error for "Thelgon."
Chromis my joy, why drop thy rainie eyes?
And sullen clouds hang on thy heavie brow?
Seems that thy net is rent, and idle lies;
Thy merry pipe hangs broken on a bough:
But late thy time in hundred joyes thou spent'st;
Now time spends thee, while thou in vain lament'st.
Thelgon, my pipe is whole, and nets are new:
But nets and pipe contemn'd, and idle lie:
My little reed, that late so merry blew,
Tunes sad notes to his masters miserie:
Time is my foe, and hates my rugged rimes:
And I as much hate both that hate, and times.
What is it then that causeth thy unrest?
Or wicked charms? or loves new-kindled fire?
Ah! much I fear love eats thy tender breast;
Too well I know his never quenched ire,
Since I Amyntas lov'd, who me disdains,
And loves in me nought but my grief and pains.
No lack of love did ever breed my smart:
I onely learn'd to pity others pain,
And ward my breast from his deceiving art:
But one I love, and he loves me again;
In love this onely is my greatest sore,
He loves so much, and I can love no more.
But when the fishers trade, once highly priz'd,
And justly honour'd in those better times,
By every lozel-groom I see despis'd;
No marvel if I hate my jocond rimes,
And hang my pipe upon a willow bough:
Might I grieve ever, if I grieve not now.
Ah foolish boy! why should'st thou so lament
To be like him, whom thou dost like so well?
The Prince of fishers thousand tortures rent.
To heav'n, lad, thou art bound: the way by hell.
Would'st thou ador'd, and great and merry be,
When he was mockt, debas'd, and dead for thee?
Mens scorns should rather joy, then sorrow move;
For then thou highest art, when thou art down.
Their storms of hate should more blow up my love;
Their laughters my applause, their mocks my crown.
Sorrow for him, and shame let me betide,
Who for me wretch in shame and sorrow died.
Thelgon, 'tis not my self for whom I plain,
My private losse full easie could I bear,
If private losse might help the publick gain:
But who can blame my grief, or chide my fear,
Since now the fishers trade, and honour'd name
Is made the common badge of scorn and shame?
Little know they the fishers toilsome pain,
Whose labour with his age, still growing, spends not:
His care and watchings (oft mispent in vain)
The early morn begins, dark evening ends not.
Too foolish men, that think all labour stands
In travell of the feet, and tired hands!
Ah wretched fishers! born to hate and strife;
To others good, but to your rape and spoil.
This is the briefest summe of fishers life,
To sweat, to freeze, to watch, to fast, to toil,
Hated to love, to live despis'd, forlorn,
A sorrow to himself, all others scorn.
Too well I know the fishers thanklesse pain,
Yet bear it cheerfully, nor dare repine.
To grudge at losse is fond, (too fond and vain)
When highest causes justly it assigne.
Who bites the stone, and yet the dog condemnes,
Much worse is then the beast he so contemnes.
Chromis, how many fishers dost thou know,
That rule their boats, and use their nets aright?
That neither winde, nor time, nor tide foreslow?
Such some have been; but (ah!) by tempests spite
Their boats are lost; while we may sit and moan,
That few were such, and now those few are none.
Ah cruel spite, and spitefull crueltie,
That thus hath robb'd our joy, and desert shore!
No more our seas shall heare your melodie;
Your songs and shrilling pipes shall sound no more:
Silent our shores, our seas are vacant quite.
Ah spitefull crueltie, and cruel spite!
In stead of these a crue of idle grooms,
Idle, and bold, that never saw the seas,
Fearlesse succeed, and fill their empty rooms:
Some lazy live, bathing in wealth and ease:
Their floating boats with waves have leave to play,
Their rusty hooks all yeare keep holy-day.
Here stray their skiffes, themselves are never here,
Ne're saw their boats: ill mought they fishers be:
Mean time some wanton boy the boat doth steer,
(Poore boat the while!) that cares as much as he:
Who in a brook a whirry cannot row,
Now backs the seas, before the seas he know.
Ah foolish lads, that think with waves to play,
And rule rough seas, which never knew command!
First in some river thy new skill assay,
Till time and practise teach thy weakly hand:
A thin, thin plank keeps in thy vitall breath:
Death ready waits. Fond boyes, to play with death!
Some stretching in their boats supinely sleep,
Seasons in vain recall'd, and windes neglecting:
Other their hooks and baits in poison steep,
Neptune himself with deathfull drugges infecting:
The fish their life and death together drink,
And dead pollute the seas with venom'd stink.
Some teach to work, but have no hands to row:
Some will be eyes, but have no light to see:
Some will be guides, but have no feet to go:
Some deaf, yet eares; some dumbe, yet tongues will be:
Dumbe, deaf, lame, blinde, and maim'd; yet fishers all:
Fit for no use, but store an hospital.
Some greater, scorning now their narrow boat,
In mighty hulks and ships (like courts) do dwell;
Slaving the skiffes that in their seas do float;
Their silken sails with windes do proudly swell;
Their narrow bottomes stretch they large and wide,
And make full room for luxurie and pride.
Self did I see a swain not long ago,
Whose lordly ship kept all the rest in aw:
About him thousand boats do waiting row;
His frowns are death, his word is firmest law;
While all the fisher-boyes their bonnets vail,
And farre adore their lord with strucken sail.
His eare is shut to simple fisher-swain.
For Gemma's self (a sea-nymph great and high)
Upon his boat attended long in vain:
What hope, poore fisher-boy may come him nigh?
His speech to her, and presence he denied.
Had Neptune come, Neptune he had defied.
Where Tybers swelling waves his banks o'reflow,
There princely fishers dwell in courtly halls:
The trade they scorn, their hands forget to row;
Their trade, to plot their rising, others falls;
Into their seas to draw the lesser brooks,
And fish for steeples high with golden hooks.
Thelgon, how canst thou well that fisher blame,
Who in his art so highly doth excell,
That with himself can raise the fishers name?
Well may he thrive, that spends his art so well.
Ah, little needs their honour to depresse:
Little it is; yet most would have it lesse.
Alas poore boy! thy shallow-swimming sight
Can never dive into their deepest art;
Those silken shews so dimme thy dazel'd sight.
Could'st thou unmask their pomp, unbreast their heart,
How would'st thou laugh at this rich beggerie!
And learn to hate such happy miserie!
Panting ambition spurres their tired breast:
Hope chain'd to doubt, fear linkt to pride and threat,
(Too ill yok't pairs) give them no time to rest;
Tyrants to lesser boats, slaves to the great.
That man I rather pity, then adore,
Who fear'd by others much, fears others more.
Most cursed town, where but one tyrant reignes:
(Though lesse his single rage on many spent)
But much more miserie that soul remains,
When many tyrants in one heart are pent:
When thus thou serv'st, the comfort thou canst have
From greatnesse is, thou art a greater slave.
Ah wretched swains, that live in fishers trade;
With inward griefs, and outward wants distressed;
While every day doth more your sorrow lade;
By others scorn'd, and by your selves oppressed!
The great the greater serve, the lesser these:
And all their art is how to rise and please.
Those fisher-swains, from whom our trade doth flow,
That by the King of seas their skill were taught;
As they their boats on Jordan wave did row,
And catching fish, were by a Fisher caught;
(Ah blessed chance! much better was the trade,
That being fishers, thus were fishes made).
Those happy swains, in outward shew unblest,
Were scourg'd, were scorn'd, yet was this losse their gain:
By land, by sea, in life, in death, distrest;
But now with King of seas securely reigne:
For that short wo in this base earthly dwelling,
Enjoying joy all excellence excelling.
Then do not thou, my boy, cast down thy minde,
But seek to please with all thy busie care
The King of seas; so shalt thou surely finde
Rest, quiet, joy, in all this troublous fare.
Let not thy net, thy hook, thy singing cease:
And pray these tempests may be turn'd to peace.
Oh Prince of waters, Soveraigne of seas,
Whom storms and calms, whom windes and waves obey;
If ever that great Fisher did thee please,
Chide thou the windes, and furious waves allay:
So on thy shore the fisher-boys shall sing
Sweet songs of peace to our sweet peaces King.