Interpretation in Bishop and Heaney

This week’s poems were easy to read, but harder to interpret.

I read Bishop’s “The Fish” literally and connected it to the destruction of nature. I saw a fish who was ravaged by human action, yet survived. The fish is caught by a novice fisherman, with the last line of the poem reading, “And I let the fish go”. It’s as if the fisherman has performed a noble act by unexpectedly releasing an elusive fish. However, for me, the act of release lacked mercy, because the fisherman’s boat has begun to pollute the water the animal lives in (“oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine”). I read some of the blog posts earlier today and one post compared Bishop’s fish to a veteran. When I reread the poem, the themes of war and survival became more prominent, especially considering the time period of Bishop’s life and poems. I tried to extend my initial interpretation to apply in this context and started seeing different angles to approach the text. Post-war, men returned home aged and ravaged by human action. They were released from war, and while their home (like the fish’s water) differed from the certain danger of war, it held it’s own set of struggles, especially emotional ones. The place they lived was not the same as it had been in their youth.

I also enjoyed Heaney’s “Digging”.The poem has a weight of both responsibility and guilt. Heaney does not perform hard labor like the generations of men before him (this may be a result of the Irish Potato Famine, which occurred shortly after he was born), he must instead “dig” with his pen. Heaney is challenged to live up to the pen before him without doing the same thing.

The simplistic language of these poems allows the opinions and bias of the reader to especially influence the image each piece conveys.


One comment

  • Fascinating post, Clara! I’m particularly struck by your interpretation of “The Fish,” which detects some darker notes beneath the themes of victory and mercy that one might grab hold of on first reading. I think there’s a lot to say about the ecological dimension of Bishop’s description of the fish that run somewhat counter to the anthropomorphizing gestures of the poem. Well done.

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