The Fishmongers’ Prayer

Speaking of fishmongers, as we were (sort of) yesterday, this piece first appeared in 2008. It was prompted by Rayner Heppenstall’s observation that in one of his poems, “Mr [T. S.] Eliot so oddly bids us to pray for fishmongers”.

“Oh Lord, through Thy infinite grace, shower my counter with bream and plaice” is the opening couplet of the Fishmongers’ Prayer. This has the distinction of being the longest prayer in the English language, which is why you will rarely hear it recited in full. Its length is due to the fact that, within the rolling cadences of its many, many verses, all known types of fish, both edible and inedible, are mentioned at least once. It was the work of a piscatorial monomaniac named Egbert Bock. He was not himself a practising fishmonger, nor indeed did he live in or even near a fishing port. He was a squat, scruffy little man whose ears were perplexingly shaped, inasmuch as they looked as if they had been stuck to his head upside down. His obsession with fish is thought to have been caused by a traumatic childhood incident involving several flounders. Nine times out of ten such happenstance will lead to a phobia, but in Bock’s case it had precisely the opposite effect. Interestingly, when experiments were made upon his brain after his death, it was discovered that the areas devoted to fish and the mongering of fish were terrifically shrivelled. Some seaside vicars still include an abridged version of the Fishmongers’ Prayer in their services. But not many.

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