An Anyalsis of the poem ‘The Fish’ by Elizabeth Bishop
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The poem ‘The Fish’ by Elizabeth Bishop is a narrative poem told in first person about the capture of a fish by an amateur fisher and the progression of the understanding for the beauty of nature.
As the poem progresses the speaker moves from a sympathetic pitiful view to a respected and admiring view of the fish. The internal confrontation of the speaker is aided with vivid imagery and similes. The speaker convinces the reader alternatively of both the fish’s beauty and its repulsiveness. She describes the fish as old and battered, “Brown skin hung in strips like ancient wall paper”, “was like wallpaper: shapes like full brown roses stained and lost through age.” The fish’s skin is twice compared with wallpaper, something dull and artificial. She seems to be displeased with her own simile, repeating it twice to show her displeasure of the fish. The images that the speaker first describes the fish with, are those that are on the outside, the fish’s appearance. She then seems to try to delve inside the fish seeing past his appearance, “Underneath two or three rags of green weed”, she describes “
The coarse with flesh packed in like feathers”. Even though she may not be describing a characteristic of the fish, she still uses ‘feathers’ to describe his flesh, to show the fishes beauty inside. The comparison latter in the poem “Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering” symbolizes the fish being a decorated war-hero, the use of wavering especially gives an image of courage and pride. The progression of the fish’s similes again emphasizes the speaker’s progression to understanding the fish’s beauty. The first similes where that of wallpaper something artificial, then to feathers, something from an animal and finally the fish is compared to a war hero, something a human could only attain. The speaker has began to realize the fish for more then just an item, more then just a “grunting weight” on the end of her line. The oxymoron “grunting weight” and the connotation of the word “tremendous” used at the start of the poem emphasizes the speaker’s initial scrutiny of the fish.
The contrast of both images leaves the reader with an image of power and beauty.
The marked shifts in tone from the surliness at the beginning of the poem to the last affectionate tone at the end of the poem and the use of rhyme, stresses the transformation of the speakers position on a simple fish and the realization of its beauty. To enable the reader to believe the fish has such qualities the fish is not labeled with ‘it’ or ‘that’, it is not represented as simply an object, but referred to as ‘him’ or ‘he’ allowing the fish to have emotions and feelings, giving the reader the ability to relate to the fish. The beginning of the poem has a tone of coldness and detachment where she does not appreciate her catch. The lines are short and simple and show no real admiration for the fish, “He didn’t fight. He hadn’t fought at all.”
These lines speak in a disappointed tone, the fish was nothing to appreciate or admire, empathize by the use of assonance. As the poem progresses the speaker’s language becomes more descriptive and the tone less disconnected and short, the “terrible oxygen” and “frightening gills” contribute to the awareness of a shift in the tone. The poem continues to build eventually leading to the speaker exclaiming “Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” where the poem has reached its climax the speaker has come to her realization of the fish’s beauty. The last line of the poem is a detractive statement by using ‘and’ instead of ‘so’ the sentence is isolated and concludes the poem in a discrete sudden way, which ends the dramatic climax of the poem.
Bishop does an excellent job of using imagery, similes, tone and sound devices to create the growing relationship with herself and the fish. From an image of a helpless captive fish the reader’s admiration is able to grow for something as trivial as a fish