Do you think "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop has anything to say about the way people relate to the natural world?

1 Answer | Add Yours

Top Answer

belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In "The Fish," the narrator describes a "tremendous fish," old and weathered, that is caught and held out of the water. The narrator, being a creature of land, has enough understanding of the fish to describe its skin, its gills, the barnacles and parasites clinging to it, and to think of its "white flesh" packed in its compact frame "like feathers." Then the narrator notices the fish's most important feature:

...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.
(Bishop, "The Fish,"

To the fish, these hooks are a mark of escape from predation; to the narrator, the hooks are a symbol of triumph over adversity, of victory over a much more powerful and intelligent force. Through its sheer will, the fish has survived being hooked so many times; that the narrator has caught it now speaks less for her own prowess than to the fish's age and the eventual entropy of all things. Man and fish live in equilibrium but not harmony, as fish are weaker and unable to reason; the narrator admires the fish -- and through the fish, all of nature -- for its natural will to survive, and the slight pains that teach it how to live without being killed by man. Because of this, the narrator finds herself thinking on the man-made boat, with its gasoline and engine "until everything was rainbow" (the characteristic sheen of gas on water) and about how she, and all mankind, cannot survive in the natural world without artificial constructions.


We’ve answered 317,858 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question