Imagery in The Fish

I enjoyed reading The Fish for this week. The poem was easy enough to read at the basic level, so getting through does not feel like a tall task, but has a lot meaning underlying the simple description of a fish for further reflection. I feel that this type of poetry is my favorite, as I can connect best with it.

Through my first read, I was impressed by the way the description really brought the fish to life in a way that built sympathy towards the fish. While there are plenty of ways to make a reader sympathetic towards an animal that has just been caught, I thought Elizabeth Bishop really angled towards that impression in a ton of different ways, such as her use of specific adjectives, and even just picking parts of the fishes body to describe. For example, talking about the lower lip of the fish made me think of the trembling lower lip of a “sullen” individual.

Additionally, I found the description of the fish’s lip as being “weaponlike” was very interesting. She goes on to say that it hung five old pieces of fish line with their hooks still growing in its mouth. In addition to being unbearably painful for the fish, this makes the fish seem like a real survivor, which adds to that sympathetic feel. I wonder if that survivor concept is a place where she is trying to give even more significance to the fish, but can’t quite figure out what she would mean by it. The next part where she describes the lines hanging from its mouth as “medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering” makes the fish seem like an old war survivor.

All of this culminates in the great ending line, “And I let the fish go”, which although seemingly corny and not very surprising, is still a great way to end the poem.

One comment

  • I’m pleased to see how closely you connected with this poem, Ash! (I also love the pun on “angled”—Bishop is out to catch her reader!) As you point out, Bishop’s seemingly straight-forward description of the fish is rich in suggestive imagery, which is one of the poem’s key interests. Nicely done.

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