On Mark Twain’s The Aged Pilot Man
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pseudonym Mark Twain, was an American writer, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer. He is one of America’s most famous writers and was already famous throughout his lifetime. He published and sold his work with such a success that he was very well to do. His royalties made him a millionaire, although he also faced bankruptcy. He traveled to Australia in 1895 as part of a world tour of 150 lectures to pay off his debts. At the time of his visit, Twain was one of the most well-known people in the world. Apparently, he had friends among the highest places and was interested in technology and science.
The writing technique used by Mark Twain was inventing realism through fictional literature. Biographical-realist-fiction was not in existence before. Mark Twain, with his works of fiction, poetry, and criticism changed literature forever and altered the traditions of literature in his own time-period.
Mark Twain was a witty man, with a very personal writer’s tongue. He was an engaged writer, abolitionist, an anti-racist and pro women’s rights.
In his early years, he became a river pilot, a mariner who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. These experiences are woven in his poem The Aged Pilot Man. Other influences are an old song The Raging Canal (1844) and the poet Coleridge’s The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner. Twain wrote the poem in Virginia City in 1863, but it wasn't published until he put out his travel book "Roughing It." (1872).
The Aged Pilot Man is a 25 stanza poem with no fixed rhyme pattern. It reveals the story of the poet himself, as a boy, since he travels with his parents and his father died when he was thirteen. They travel by ship. A storm and very bad weather are ahead. The pilot man rescues everybody by navigating them through the storm. Everybody is safe in the end. The poem has a unique rhyme and rhythm pattern and funny words are used to describe the tongues of the sailors involved.
A curve! a curve! the dangers grow!
Haw the head mule!-the aft one gee!
Luff!-bring her to the wind!'
It’s about facing storms in life and how the pilot man, the craftsman, is the hero and not the captain who gives in at the very first drop of rain.
For me, a European, it resembles the story of The Costa Concordia, a ship that wrecked outside Italy in 2012, where the captain fled the ship leaving his crew and passengers, and 32 people died.
This captain is no hero either, he is already contemplating death when the storm starts, leaving the heroism up to the pilot man who saves everybody in the end.
Twain writes in his poem about ordinary people on the ship or at the shore. His language is very modern, not pompous, or only for the happy few. Everybody can and could read his work. This is probably due to the fact that he was also a journalist in his younger years and a great observer.
Known for his realism, memorable characters, bluntness, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression, Twain is definitely one of the most recognizable figures in American history.
Although he is mostly known to me for the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the King and the Pauper, this poem The Aged Pilot Man was a joy to read.