Study Guide

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

The Fish Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Fish” is Bishop’s most anthologized poem. The work is popular because it avoids the surrealism that makes puzzling some of the other poems published in Bishop’s first collection. It is devoted in large part to a description of a fish that the narrator catches and, in the last line, lets go. The moral suggested is somewhat closer to the surface than is usual for Bishop; in addition, the slight but undeniable sententiousness of the narrator may make it easier for the reader to identify with him or her than with the less characterized and virtually invisible narrators of many of Bishop’s other poems.

The work opens with a simple statement: The narrator has “caught a tremendous fish.” The fish immediately comes to seem somewhat noble, or perhaps resigned: “He didn’t fight./ He hadn’t fought at all.” The reader sees the fish immediately as humanized, both through the male pronoun as well as through the author’s ascription to it of the adjective “venerable.” The narrator clearly reacts to this creature as an equal to an equal, on one hand totally within his or her power, on the other hand a creature into whose eyes he or she looks. The reader is told that the fish’s eyes are “far larger” than those of the narrator, “but shallower, and yellowed.” The most intimate communication with another person frequently takes place through the eyes—so too this contact of fisher and fish.

This fish, however, is the...

(The entire section is 419 words.)