The Fish Summary (Marianne Moore)

Marianne Moore


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Fish cover image

“The Fish” marked a turning point in Moore’s development. Even though she would later write poems that were as good, critics note that she never excelled in achieving a more perfect integration of images and ideas. She creates precise images of natural things in terms that also denote human characteristics. These build upon one another to express an eternal truth—that all life forces contain death.

Moore always observed natural phenomena, both at first hand and in pictures and photographs. Her early education in art and the natural sciences provided her with a trained eye for details. In “The Fish,” this observation results in images—colors, shapes, and textures—so precise that critic William Pratt included the poem in his book The Imagist Poems (1963), the definitive text on the Imagist movement. Like the Imagists, Moore bases the poem on common objects of nature. One fish “wades through black jade” as it moves near the treacherous cliff. The “sun,/ split like spun/ glass,” invades every crevice, leaving nothing hidden. It reveals colors—the “turquoise sea/ of bodies” of fish, the “rice-grains” of jellyfish, and crabs like green lilies. Moore also introduces alien images such as “ash-heaps.” These, like the verbs “wade” and “split,” describe the surroundings, yet they also suggest natural and human forces of destruction.

She organizes these details so that they build to an ending that comments on the ethical significance of her images. In the first section, she describes the aquatic world surrounding the cliff: fish, shells, barnacles, starfish, jellyfish, crabs, and toadstools. Following these images, she moves to a general statement about the nature of this world. “All/ external/ marks of abuse” show...

(The entire section is 730 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

First Stanza
The first line of “The Fish” syntactically belongs to the title. In an almost filmic manner, the speaker...

(The entire section is 808 words.)