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Exploring The Fish By Elizabeth Bishop English Literature Essay

In the poem “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, the author uses much imagery, symbols, and similes to illustrate the story of catching the fish. The narrative poem is one of a classic fisherman tale; however Bishop uniquely twists the story with her use of imagery. The imagery makes this story live with the reader’s imagination. The details of the fish appeal to the reader’s vision and feelings. There are symbols in this poem that are revealed through the similes which sometimes have different effects each time their used. Elizabeth Bishop uses many literary devices to allow the reader to develop an understanding and appreciation of the fish that is similar to her own.

Elizabeth uses the hooks in the jaw of the fish to spur the reader’s interest of the fish. Like most of Bishop’s poems, the events in the poem reveal background information. These hooks help the reader sympathize with the fish and empathize with the narrator. The reader learns that the fish has been through a lot in its life because the, ” green line, frayed at the end where he broke it, two heavier lines, and a fine black thread still crimped from the strain and snap when it broke and he got away.” This tells the reader that the fish is resistant and a tough one to catch. It also shows that the fish has been around for quite some time because it had barnacles on it, and the lines, in its mouth, were old. Oddly, when caught this time, “He didn’t fight. He hadn’t fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely.”(5-10)

The fish and the reader as well as the poet seem to have acquired a mutual respect for each other. The hooks as well as the battered and vulnerable state show that the fish has aged over time or has just gotten tired from his battle with fishermen. The boat of the narrator is described as, “little rented boat… rusted engine… bailer rusted orange… sun-cracked thwarts.”(66-70) This description shows that it is quite possible that the narrator is aged as well. The reader can infer that the narrator has been fishing, perhaps for this fish, for some time, and now that he is caught, the honorable thing to do is to “let the fish go.”(76) There are similes and metaphors that like these details lead the reader into feeling the same as the narrator does.

“Like medals with their ribbons,” Bishop likens the hooks in line 60. This simile is used to help the reader acquire the narrator’s thinking. More so, the reader is told the feeling that the narrator feels when he sees the hooks in the fish’s mouth; “victory filled up.”(65) The constant staring of the narrator invoked deep thought of the fish creating these metaphors. In lines 30-40, the narrator looks into the fishes eyes and likens them to “a big peony” and “lenses of old scratched isinglass.” The metaphors enhance the poem by bringing a clearer picture to the readers that can identify with the comparisons. For example, the significance of the isinglass is outlined in Allport’s document:

Bishop’s interest in optics, the science of visual perception, was keen. In Key West she had worked in a factory making binocular lenses, and knew the intricacies of light refraction and reflection. “The Fish,” with the “lenses / of old scratched isinglass” (39-40), as well as the ending rainbows, contains numerous references to this knowledge, as well as a knowledge of the fish’s anatomy (isinglass is actually the clear, gelatinous material that comprises the fish’s swim-bladder). The ability of see farther and in more detail than with the normal human eye, which is the power of the binoculars, also is the power of Bishop’s poem, which enlarges at the same time as it focuses on the visual appearance of the fish.

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This excerpt identifies the author’s intention of using isinglass in the poem. The readers that have experience in the scientific field are additionally referred to view the fish as the narrator does.

The poem also has a symbol which is identified through the repetition and alliteration of the word ‘rainbow.’ In line 75, the word ‘rainbow’ is repeated three times just before the narrator let’s the fish go. This symbol could be one of religious definition when God gave Noah a sign of peace, the rainbow. Possibly, the poet and the fish are now at peace with each other as they go their separate ways. Another meaning may be that the fish has a special ability to trick fishermen by creating rainbows possibly through light diffusion of his scales, so he knew that this fisherman would just let him go in awe of his magnificence. This may be why he did not fight the narrator. All these poetic devices help the reader get to know the fish as well as the narrator knows the fish.

“The Fish” is a narrative poem by Elizabeth Bishop that exercises poetic elements illustrating the catch of a ‘tremendous fish.’ Bishop takes advantage of imagery, sensory details, symbols, and similes to enhance the poem. All of these poetic devices make the poem real to the reader by creating a picture in the reader’s mind of the story that is similar to the poet’s understanding of the poem.


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