What issues are raised in Elizabeth Bishop's poem "The Fish"?

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The poem about the fish takes the reader on a journey through three different states. The poet starts readers from a point of pity and gradually elevates them to a feeling of admiration and finally to respect.

The writer introduces the fish as a prisoner. The fish does not fight, and its age shows through its skin, which resembles “ancient wallpaper.” The reader, in this case, is made to feel sorry for the fish given its appearance. After describing the physical state of the fish, the writer shifts to admiring the fish, which carries evidence of previous attempts on its life by fishermen. The hooks in its mouth are displayed as medals or battle scars. Finally, the writer releases the fish back into the sea.

This action shows some level of respect for the fish by the writer. The writer recognizes that this was no ordinary fish, but a survivor. The fish has fought long and hard enough, and even though it does not fight anymore, it deserves to live because it has earned it.

The poem subtly reflects the author’s life. She was raised by her grandparents after the death of her father and the institutionalization of her mother when she was very young. She survived different challenges in her life and was still able to achieve success. The poem suggests that one's efforts don't always go unrecognized.

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On the surface, Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "The Fish," seems simple. A person catches a fish, looks at it, and then lets it go. However, beyond the simplicity of the poem's action, there are complex ideas at play. The speaker of the poem takes a good deal of time really looking at the fish--from its outside, which she describes as old wallpaper, to its inside, when she describes its pink bladder.

The speaker sees broken lines coming from the fish and recognizes how many times it has gotten away from other fishermen. She sees how old and "venerable" it is. She ultimately respects the fish for surviving so many attempts on its life, and decides to let him go in the end. The main issue Bishop raises in this poem is the humane treatment of animals. Rather than kill the fish, she lets it go and as victory fills the boat, this shows respect for life, even the life of a fish. 

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