In “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, why does the speaker in the poem let the fish go? In “A Blessing” by James Wright, what, exactly, is the blessing? In "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore...

In “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, why does the speaker in the poem let the fish go?

In “A Blessing” by James Wright, what, exactly, is the blessing?

In "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, does this speaker portray this memory of his father positively or negatively?

In “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, what images in the poem invoke the biblical Lazarus story?

In “The Blue Bowl” by Jane Kenyon, what does the cat's bowl symbolize?

In “Most Like an Arch This Marriage” by John Ciardi, how is an arch like a marriage?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In order to truly understand and appreciate poetry, it is essential to take time to read and reread in order to come to your own understanding of the work, the imagery, and the author's intent for each poem. This kind of personal experience with a poem is one of the most significant differences between reading poetry and reading any kind of prose.

Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" is a simple narrative about the speaker who catches a fish. Most of the poem is dedicated to a detailed description of the "tremendous fish," and the details are graphic and precise. One of the last details the speaker of the poem notices is that the grand old fish has five hooks 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.

These hanging threads and lines are a badge of honor for this fish, a clear indication that he has not only lived a long time but has proven himself a victor at least five times. Now he has been caught, but the speaker knows the fish must be set free. Its release is respect for the scarred but mighty warrior fish.

James Wright's "The Blessing" is a short narrative about an experience with horses. While there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about the encounter the speaker has with the animals, he is moved by it. The horses run to him and his friend, greeting them "gladly" and "can hardly contain their happiness / That we have come." Later, when one of the horses specifically seeks him out, the speaker feels as if he has been blessed beyond measure. The blessing, then, is the unconditional love and acceptance of a beautiful creature.

The speaker of "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke describes a young boy, the son of an alcoholic father and the dance he does with his father before going to bed. There is confusion for the boy. While most of the imagery is more negative (whiskey breath, dizzy, hanging on "like death," battered knuckle, scraped ear, beating, and clinging), there is also "romping" and some playfulness. The boy concludes "[s]uch waltzing was not easy."

Almost from the beginning,"Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath is evocative of the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Line four uses the word "miracle," which of course what Jesus performed on Lazurus. Consistent images such as linen, unwrapping, flesh, and calling are clear references to the biblical account of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

The blue bowl in Jane Kenyon's "The Blue Bowl" is symbolic of the real life that has been lost. This cat once enjoyed life and ate from his special bowl; now he is being buried with it.

The arch in John Ciardi's "Most Like an Arch This Marriage" is a visual representation of two individuals who have become one. Visualize two people leaning into one another to not only make an arch but to draw strength and support from one another:

two weaknesses that lean   
into a strength. 

I encourage you not to rely solely on my comments but to read each poem in order to know if you agree, disagree, or see something altogether different than the ideas I have provided. I would also remind you that anything you submit for a class should be in your own words rather than someone else's. These are all wonderful poems full of interesting and insightful observations about life and living.

Sources:

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