The Fish

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A 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.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Summary of The Fish

  • Popularity of “The Fish”: This poem was written by Elizabeth Bishop, one of the iconic American poets and short story writers. The Fish is a wonderful narrative poem famous for the unique thematic strand of fishing and its presentation. It was first published in 1946. The poem speaks about the writer’s memorable and exciting fishing experience. It highlights how she got mesmerized with the beauty of her hunt that she preferred letting it go. Its popularity, however, lies in that it deals with the subject of admiration of the fishing skill.
  • “The Fish” As a Representative of Wonder: This beautiful literary piece revolves around the writer’s exciting encounter with a fish. The poem begins with the vivid description of her experience how once she manages to catch a tremendous fish on her fishing trip. Surprisingly, the fish does not make any effort to free himself when the speaker is trying to overpower him. This strange reaction of the fish adds to the speaker’s curiosity and allows her to examine her hunt more closely. The poet provides in-depth detail of the fish’s skin as well as the inside of the fish.
    Also, she compares him with human beings and shows respect toward him as she has caught him for a sport. The close examination of the prey makes her feel his life. This realization makes her stand at the point, where she sets the fish free and feels extremely delighted. However, readers notice the way she has transformed an ordinary fish into something that exhibits strength, enigma, and love.
  • Major Themes in “The Fish”: Natural beauty, admiration, and choice are the significant themes of the poem. The seemingly simple poem describes how an unfamiliar creature catches the speaker’s attention and wins freedom. Apparently, the poem seems to be a simple description of a wonderful and exciting fishing experience, but the way that an ordinary creature alters the speaker’s mind makes the poem a treat to read. The speaker tries to humanize the fish throughout the poem; she first personifies the fish into a male persona and then sets him free.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Fish”

literary devices are modes that represent the writer’s emotions and ideas. It is through these devices the writers make their few words appealing to the readers. Elizabeth Bishop has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  1. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, “He” is repeated in the opening lines of the poem to emphasize the point such as,

“He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight.”

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /r/ in “was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.”
  3. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “where oil had spread a rainbow”, “the big bones and the little bones” and “He was speckled with barnacles.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poet compares fish’s skin with ancient wallpaper in the opening line where it is stated as, “His brown skin hung in strips/like ancient wallpaper.”
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet has personified the fish throughout the poem. For example, “He didn’t fight” and “He was speckled with barnacles.”
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism means using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. “The rainbow” symbolizes the release of the fish, while “the hook about winning” stands for medals.
  5. Simile: It is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. For example, “his brown skin hung in strips/like ancient wallpaper” and “and its pattern of darker brown/was like wallpaper.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Fish”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. It is a narrative poem, comprising seventy-six lines with no stanza break.
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for someone narrating a past incident. These can also be used to describe the state of a helpless person.

He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.”