Imagery in the Fish, a Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

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Imagery in The Fish, a Poem By Elizabeth Bishop

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“The Fish” By Elizabeth Bishop

With only around 100 published poems, Elizabeth Bishop may not have been a prominent poet of our time. However, she is still well known for her use of descriptive imagery of the physical world and her ability to convey the speaker’s emotions to the reader. In her distinctly visual poem, “The Fish,” the narrator recounts his unpredictable encounter with a fish he caught. In the poem, Bishop uses specific imagery and diction to further the themes of the poem, choices and power.

In the very first lines of the poem, the reader is bombarded with powerful imagery and details about the fish. He was “tremendous,” “battered,” “venerable,” and “homely.” Later in lines 9 to 12, the fish is being described as having “brown skin [that] hung in strips like ancient wallpaper…and [having a] pattern of darker brown.” Bishop uses these images to imply that the fish is old and has a great deal of wisdom due to its age. Additionally, throughout the poem, the speaker unveils more about the fish, as the imagery depicted becomes more colorful. This is shown in lines 16 to 21 as the speaker portrays the fish to having “fine rosettes of lime…[that were] infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down.” From these lines, I thought that somehow the fish had caught the narrator’s eye due to the fact that he is paying more attention to what the fish looks like. Furthermore, the relationship between the storyteller and the fish becomes clearer when the narrator makes eye contact with the fish. The speaker recounts this interaction by saying that the fish had eyes that “were far larger than [his] but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil.” At this point in the poem, the reader can understand that the speaker has not killed the fish, but sees the intricacy of it. Due to this insight, he feels empathy for it and respect because of its age. Moreover, in the second to the last line in the poem, the storyteller states that everything was “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” Perhaps this imagery came into play because he had an epiphany that with his physical power over the fish, he has the choice to kill it or release it, and each action leads to a consequence.

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Throughout the poem, I noticed that the diction were all in past tense, possibly to gain a point of view of the speaker’s experience. Additionally, as I progressed through the poem, I saw that the fish has a sort of power over the speaker. It was not a physical type of power, but the way the fish captures the narrator’s eyes makes the fisherman contemplate about the choice he’s making before finally setting the fish free. I thought that this showed a struggle within the speaker. I saw this in the first line when the fisherman said, “I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat.” The narrator had hesitated before considering what to do next with his fish. Moreover, when the fish was caught, “he didn’t fight, he hadn’t fought at all.” At that moment, the fisherman has a choice to kill fish right away, but he didn’t. Later in lines 22 to 23, when the fish was “breathing in the terrible oxygen,” there is another choice, but this is a choice between life and death. The speaker is aware of the effects on the fish, yet he chooses to keep him there. Finally, when nearing the end of the poem, the narrator “stared and stared and victory filled up the little rented boat.” To me, I interpreted this line as the tipping point of the speaker as he “let the fish go.” And with that, he was content, fulfilled, and satisfied with his decision.

Overall, Elizabeth Bishop uses this powerful poem, full of imagery and specific diction, to develop the ideas of power and choices. From this poem, the reader learns that even if one is in a position of power, he does not need to take advantage of it, because with every choice there is always a consequence.

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