The Fish – Too Easy?

I liked Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” lot, mostly because I could picture exactly what the fish looked like. Her imagery is solid. I have some questions about the intentions of this poem though. First, I think this poem is a prime example of the struggle between what is poetry and what is prose. All of the ideas in her poems are broken up with sentence punctuation (commas, periods, etc), but they’re split apart by line breaks into one long stanza. If it weren’t for the way she placed the words on the page, this poem could just as easily be read as prose. And it seems to be describing something mundane and not very elusive as well. That brings me to my second point. Is this poem really just about a fish? And if so, why is this poetic? Why isn’t this just a nicely written essay? What I find so difficult about this poem is its simplicity. It seems so obvious compared to everything else we’ve read all semester, but am I just missing something?

One comment

  • Interesting post, Isabella. One way to approach this question, I think, is to ask what makes Bishop’s descriptions so effective? That is, how does she render for the reader such a vivid image of the fish? There’s a way in which description can be an end in itself, and further, understanding Bishop’s technique can give us a sense of both how this is a poem, and maybe, why she wrote it.

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