Is nature a theme in "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop?

Quick answer:

The narrator, a creature of land, admires the fish for its strength to survive despite so many humans trying to kill it.

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According to critic Lloyd Schwarty Bishop is frimly in the ut pictura poesis tradition.  That is, the use of Nature is like art, as in a painting or in a poem; nature, like art speaks to the viewer or reader. Elizabeth Bishop wants the readers of her poem "The Fish" to read the world around them.

Thus, in Bishop's poem, the speaker, who at first is merely fishing and catches the "battered and venerable" large fish, examines this creature of nature, noticing the various patterns and colors he possesses, much like a work of art:

Here and there

his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper....He was speckled with barnacles,

fine rosettes of lime,

and infested

with tiny white sea-lice,

and underneath two or three

rags of green weed hung down.

And, as the speaker examines the "tremendous fish," she is filled with sympathy and awe at the majesty and bravado of the creature who has overcome several attempts at capturing him as she looks at the five pieces of wire and line "Like medals with their ribbons." Furthermore, as she "stared and stared," everything becomes "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!" and she releases the fish to the lake.  This rainbow represents the victory of not only the fish, but of the speaker, as well.  For, she has read the world of nature and learned to appreciate its beauty and sympathize with it.  Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop's poem is verse that is truly beautiful, deeply sympathetic to nature.

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I think that the appreciation of the natural element can be a theme in Bishop's poem.  I think that the idea of "And I let it go" helps to convey an understanding of how human beings must work within the natural setting and not work against it.  The ending of the poem, in contrast to its start, helps to bring about the idea that individuals are a part of the this natural world and not poised against it.  The act of catching the fish and them growing to understand its position in the world and the human being's relationship to it helps to enhance the idea that one of the poem's themes is a natural appreciation.  In a larger sense, the poem helps to both value in the individual and devalue the individual in a grand configuration.  Bishop's poem simultaneously praises in the human being, but also examines the human being's endeavors as small in the larger scope of consciousness.  In this, the natural appreciation of the world can be considered a theme that arises out of the poem.

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Do you think "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop has anything to say about the way people relate to the natural world?

In "The Fish," the narrator describes a "tremendous fish," old and weathered, that is caught and held out of the water. The narrator, being a creature of land, has enough understanding of the fish to describe its skin, its gills, the barnacles and parasites clinging to it, and to think of its "white flesh" packed in its compact frame "like feathers." Then the narrator notices the fish's most important feature:

...and then I saw
that from his lower lip
-- if you could call it a lip --
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
(Bishop, "The Fish,"

To the fish, these hooks are a mark of escape from predation; to the narrator, the hooks are a symbol of triumph over adversity, of victory over a much more powerful and intelligent force. Through its sheer will, the fish has survived being hooked so many times; that the narrator has caught it now speaks less for her own prowess than to the fish's age and the eventual entropy of all things. Man and fish live in equilibrium but not harmony, as fish are weaker and unable to reason; the narrator admires the fish -- and through the fish, all of nature -- for its natural will to survive, and the slight pains that teach it how to live without being killed by man. Because of this, the narrator finds herself thinking on the man-made boat, with its gasoline and engine "until everything was rainbow" (the characteristic sheen of gas on water) and about how she, and all mankind, cannot survive in the natural world without artificial constructions.

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