Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem contains three significant themes: the integration of subjective and objective observation, an almost feminist definition of victory, and the active involvement of the reader in the experience recreated in the poem. These themes also appear in much of Bishop’s other works. Bishop felt strongly that to discover the truth or reality of anything, one must become self-forgetful, totally caught up in the apprehension of what one is concentrating on. She illustrates this poetic tenet in many of her poems, like “The Fish,” which is essentially a lyric meditation. It is the combination of her close objective examination of the fish and her richly speculative subjective interpolation from what she sees that enable her to grasp intuitively the qualities inherent in the fish she has caught. For a brief, but intense moment, she is at one with nature as represented by the fish and at one with the values he embodies.

As she stares and takes in the reality of the fish, “victory filled up/ the little rented boat.” The adjective “rented” indicates her own fragility. Just as the fish is being held partly out of the water, its natural home, so she is in a sense equally out of place on the water in a boat she does not own. The victory filling up the boat is not her victory over the fish she has caught, but victory over the tenuousness and precarious mystery of the human situation brought to her in her interaction with the fish, transformed in her...

(The entire section is 484 words.)