A Close Critical Reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”

Humans don’t only learn from each other’s experiences. Sometimes, things in nature create inside an observer or participant of a phenomenon in nature, a profound realization about life. Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” shares to the reader a stated effect. The poem describes a easy fishing expertise, however the event, prompted by a selected fish that the speaker catches, awakens inside him a sense of awe as to the price of the in any other case on an everyday basis sea creature. The narrative poem has a easy story.

It is about somebody who goes fishing in the future. After the speaker catches the fish, however, it becomes an object of curiosity for him. The introspection begins an internal battle as to whether he ought to keep the fish or not. In the tip, he chooses to throw it again into the ocean. Using a number of literary gadgets, nevertheless, Bishop is prepared to dramatize by way of phrases the internal wrestle and within the process, illuminates and heightens the strange expertise.

The fish, for one, is not described as an object. It is referred to as a “he”.

This personification, however, is to not give the fish human attributes but to clue the reader that the poem is about more than catching a fish. The fish remains a fish all throughout the poem, but it is in the speaker’s thoughts that it becomes symbolic and due to this fact to be treated as an ordinary fish by the reader. More than this, it is really the imagery, the similes and metaphors, which the writer uses to physically describe the fish that appeals the reader’s senses and sympathy for the fish which, in turn, lifts the poem to its higher which means.

“He (the fish) didn’t fight” (5) when the speaker catches him. Its pores and skin is like “like wallpaper…stained and misplaced via age” (13-15). On its jaw “hung five old pieces of fish-line…all their 5 huge hooks/grown firmly in his mouth” (51, 54-55). This set of images means that this explicit fish is old and has fought a lot of battles already. Its physique has suffered the scars of past struggles and is battle-worn.

The simile of the 5 fish hooks as being in contrast by the poet to “medals with their ribbons…a five-haired beard of wisdom” (61, 63) recalls to the reader’s thoughts the medals on the suit of a five-star general who has fought wars and come out of them battle-scarred yet happy with each ribbon and scar. There is a tone of respect upon the speaker for the fish. At this point within the poem particularly, the second half of the lengthy single-stanza, there’s an irony in the transformation of the creature from ordinary fish within the first line to the revered creature within the latter part of the poem.

This reverence is what convinces the speaker to “let the fish go” (76). The act of letting go, too, is another ironic event in that any fisherman would not let go of one thing he has labored hard to get. But to the poet, it is not a waste of effort because it is a present of his respect for the fish. After staring on the fish for a very lengthy time, “victory filled up/ the little rented boat” (65-66), the speaker expresses. It is a rating of victory for the fish as a result of its scars have satisfied the speaker that this fish has fought all its life and now deserves respect for being a survivor.

Ultimately, the poem could be seen as an allegory to the beauty of a survivor’s ugly scars and physical deformities. The fish, with its tough skin “infested with tiny white sea-lice” (19) hanged with “rags of green weed” (21) and “five old pieces of fish-line” (51) caught in its mouth, has grown ugly with age. Yet, these marks usually are not merely led to by age however from years of struggling and liberating itself from previous makes an attempt of different fishermen to catch it. Those are its personal marks of magnificence and honor.


Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Fish”.

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