What does "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow" mean in Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish"?

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It seems to me this line is representative of what the narrator of "The Fish" figuratively sees.  This is an important fish, not just a fish or anyfish.  This is a wonderful specimen of age and longevity and perseverence and character. 

On the outside, though, the fish is not what anyone would call beautiful-- 

battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper....

It is scarred and battered and lice-ridden and trailing bits of other fisherman's lures and lines.  This fish is a testament to age and strength and character and perseverence.  While there is an actual rainbow on the spilled oil around the engine on the bottom of the boat, the rainbow in this line is more about the figurative or symbolic nature of a rainbow.  This ugly brown trout did not, all of a sudden, regain its coloring; instead, it is an image seen by the narrator of what this fish is on the inside.  And the symbolism of promise and hope and beauty are all realized in that image of a rainbow.  Then--"I let the fish go."

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What is the effect of the repetition of "rainbow" in "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop?

The next-to-last line, a trio of the metaphor "rainbow," actually begins a few lines earlier. The final section of this poem reads,

I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

First, the rainbow presents a visual image of the way oil reflects light when in water. This stands in sharp contrast to the "rusted engine" and the "bailer-rusted orange."

Rainbows often symbolize life and promise. As the speaker notes this rainbow which spreads around her, she realizes the contrasts of life and death in her surroundings. Her oarlocks and gunnels are "sun-cracked," deteriorating from use. This is similar to the fish she has caught, who shows evidence of being captured many times, yet always managing to escape and wearing his lines like "medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering." After capturing this old and battle-weary fish, the speaker has the choice to allow it to live or to end its life.

The rainbow around her boat makes the choice clear. The repetition found in the next-to-last line is the assertion of her choice. She chooses life and hope for this weary old fish, allowing him the freedom to swim away.

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