After battling an enormous, grizzled fish and hauling it aboard, a fisherman discovers beauty in the beast. Its stoicism, power, and unexpectedly refined features command the man’s admiration.
Despite the “tremendous” animal’s strength and “grunting weight,” it refuses to continue to fight after finally being caught. The fisherman observes that his catch is
battered and venerable
The fish may be battle-worn and ugly, but it is dignified and worthy of respect. It inspires reverence not only from its stoic behavior but also from its age, with its
brown skin [that] hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper
and its darker brown pattern with
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
It has managed to survive through years of tough living. Within its crude appearance are fine details of surprising aesthetic appeal. In addition to resembling wallpaper decorated with robust roses, the fish’s skin is
speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime.
The fisherman points out the contrast between positive, delicate (“speckled,” “fine rosettes”) and negative details (like the bothersome “barnacles” or caustic “lime”). The rose motif continues with lime resembling ornamental petite roses used purely for decoration.
Additional contrasts between crude and refined elements appear in the fisherman’s description of the animal’s innards:
The coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
The “coarse” muscle is firm yet densely packed “like feathers.” “Big” bones juxtapose “little” ones. Its viscera resemble flashy (“red”, “shiny”) and chic (“black”) jewels. The functional, unglamorous swim bladder is “pink”—conjuring up qualities of delicacy and charm—and further extends the flower motif in a simile likening it to a peony.
Finally, the fisherman cannot help but admire the fish’s strength and tenacity despite being caught. He presents evidence of the animal putting up a good fight and nearly escaping. After all, the beast required five hooks to be subdued, and this is after it broke one green line. More signs of its power and resistance are the
two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
The colorful fishing lines hanging from its mouth are signs of hard-won victory and experience:
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
This beauty of the fish’s floral hues and victorious spirit inspire the fisherman to release it in the end.