The Fish Themes (Marianne Moore)

Marianne Moore

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The accumulation of precise detail in “The Fish” at first suggests that the poem is about delicate marine life. By the last stanza, it has become clear that the poem is not merely about fish. Some readers, however, have found the conclusion difficult to paraphrase. In his book on Moore’s poetry, Donald Hall, for example, has said, “The last linesare moving without being entirely penetrable.”

Moore sometimes creates confusion and deliberate obscurity in order to work out subtle interrelationships. Part of the difficulty of the poem’s ending is that it seems to offer a moral without explicitly stating one. The emphatic conclusion, “The sea grows old in it,” is hardly a moral in the traditional sense. Instead, as Hall’s word “moving” suggests, “The Fish” conveys a sense of mounting emotion as Moore pursues her subject. Though abstract and evasive, the penultimate sentence of “The Fish” is obviously assertive. No living thing can “revive its youth,” but the word “what” in Moore’s circumlocution “what cannot revive its youth,” is deliberately vague and inclusive.

The sea is a tremendous power, threatening not only the marine life that it can fling against the shore, but also the land that surrounds it. In the fourth stanza, Moore repeats the word “iron” within a single line. Whatever the literal significance of the poem’s iron, it certainly stands for that which is hard and unyielding. Moore admires...

(The entire section is 511 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Moore’s poem attests to the fact that although humanity may attempt to shape nature to fit its needs, it is ultimately...

(The entire section is 373 words.)