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In the poem "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, what images or metaphors are at work to...

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jazi-sh | (Level 1) Honors

Posted June 9, 2013 at 5:13 AM via web

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In the poem "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, what images or metaphors are at work to convey the speaker's feeling about the death of animals?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 9, 2013 at 3:44 PM (Answer #1)

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A meditative lyric, "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop displays what critic Lloyd Scwartz terms ut picture poesis.  That is, the use of Nature is like art, as in a painting or in a poem, and Nature speaks to the viewer or reader. Elizabeth Bishop's descriptive images of the fish urges others to read the world around them.

In her efforts to have readers interpret the world around them, Bishop's poem has a connectiveness of the image to a word, creating a narrative, then, that exists outside the art. For instance, after the speaker has caught the "venerable" and "tremendous fish," Bishop employs color images in describing the"ancient wallpaper" with its patterns of dark brown, 

shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost throught age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested with tiny white sea-lice.

Further the images of the gill "fresh and crisp with blood,"  and the

dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails

indicate the fish's struggle with death. The fish, perhaps a Muskie, is a large fish who has escaped capture many times as the speaker notes the "five old pieces of fish-line" that hang from hooks that have grown into his mouth. That this old fish has beaten five other fisherman causes the speaker to revere the fish. She "stares" and, in a beautiful metaphor observes, "victory filled up the little rented boat." Looking in the hull of the boat where oil has spilt and "spread a rainbow [metaphor for the image], the speaker perceives everything as "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!"

With this philosophical epiphany, the speaker realizes the wisdom of revering life, especially the life of one who has struggled to live and endure. So, with respect for the fish who has won five previous battles she throws him back into the lake. Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop's verse is deeply sympathetic to Nature: Beauty--"rainbow, rainbow, rainbow"--has emerged from destruction. "I let the fish go" becomes, then, a metaphor for renewal of life because the speaker renews life in the act of throwing the fish back, an act of reverence. The act of reverence, then, becomes victory both for the fish and the speaker.

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