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Bishop’s poem gives a highly detailed picture of a “venerable” heroic fish that, withits “medals” and its “beard of wisdom,” becomes a symbol of courageous endurance.From the colors of the fish, seen and imagined (“brown skin,” “darker brown,”“rosettes of lime,” “tiny white sea-lice,” “white flesh,” “dramatic reds and blacks,”“pink swim-bladder,” “tinfoil”), and from the colors of the old fish-lines, the poem moves to the rainbow in the oil in the bilge (the lowest part of the hull). The rainbow—the sign of hope and of God’s promise to Noah to spare humanity—grows in the imagination until it fills “the little rented boat,” illuminating (we might say) the speaker, who, perceiving the heroic history of the captive, forbears to conquer and returns the fish to the water.
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