Everyday Occurrence or Profound Experience?

I found that this week’s theme, “Everyday Difficulty,” was very fitting for Elizabeth Bishop’s two poems. For the most part, they are written in fairly plain English; the language is not what makes comprehending these poems difficult, as they are fairly straightforward to read. Both deal with accounts of seemingly normal occurrences (catching a fish and sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room), so the difficulty comes about due to finding overall meaning in these everyday happenings.

In “The Fish,” the speaker recounts a time where he/she caught a “tremendous fish.” The 76 lines of the poem seem to deal with an almost split-second instance; the speaker catches the fish, holds it by the side of the boat, contemplates its existence, and releases it. For me, I found it difficult to understand the significance of this occurrence. Essentially, I continued to ask myself why this poem is still read today. It seems that the speaker, upon holding the fish on the side of the boat, recognizes the beauty of the fish. He/she realizes that the fish has lived a life of difficulty (“I saw/that from his lower lip/–if you could call it a lip–/grim, wet, and weaponlike/hung five old pieces of fish-line/”). I connected this with the everyday struggles that all beings face in their existence. Though we all face some sort of obstacle, it does not completely detract from our existence, and therefore, we have some sort of inherent worth. It seems that after the speaker makes this connection, he allows the fish to go free and continue to live. This was the take away I made after really thinking about this poem, and I’m not sure if I’m even remotely correct. But for me, the difficulty in came in understanding a bigger significance of a fairly normal occurrence.

“In the Waiting Room” proved to be even more difficult for me to understand. It seems to be about the speaker recounting a time in which she went to the doctor with her aunt. While in the waiting room, she comes across a feature in National Geographic about cannibalism. The speaker recognizes how foreign that way of life is in comparison to his/her own life in Worcester, Massachusetts, and this seems to startle him/her. This poem was difficult because it seemed to talk about a very specific instance (location, date, magazine, etc. are all very specific to this one occurrence). More so than “The Fish,” I wondered why an understanding of this speaker’s specific experience was important to me. The only thing I could come up with this that certain experiences have profound and lasting impacts on an individual, and they in some way or another shape them.

One comment

  • Interesting post, Thomas. I think your way into the poems is a good one, noting that, for Bishop, the careful description of everyday occurrences seems to open out onto something more profound. We’ll be discussing this further, today, and hopefully will get some insight into what sort of “lasting impact” scenes like that of “In the Waiting Room” might have on the speaker of the poems.

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