Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Goose Fish,” a study in irony, deals with the delusions of humankind. On one level, the lovers express the ultimate delusion—that they can make a world apart from the rest of the cosmos. This is what they believe they accomplish by making love unobserved on the sand. Ironically, they are not alone, but are watched by the fish, that simultaneously represents the cosmos and the equally inescapable presence of death. The intruding goose fish, with its oddly comical expression, punctures the romantic mood created by the first stanza, with its description of the moonlit shore. The lovers’ queries as to the fish’s meaning present further comment on humankind’s egocentricity.

From the lovers’ discovery that they are not unobserved follows an implicit comment on the deceptiveness of appearances. The lovers think themselves alone, because of the moon’s light and because of their passion, but they are controlled by the very forces they believe they can escape. The fish’s sudden “appearance” is not actually sudden at all. It has been there all the time, just as death is always present even in the most seminal situations. In fact, “The Goose Fish” concerns an ironic “love triangle,” the lovers and the fish, or the lovers and the rest of life and death.

Another contrast between the worlds of appearances and reality is in the soft sweeping beauty of the beach with its underlying hardness. The moon softly lights lapping waves...

(The entire section is 602 words.)