The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Goose Fish” is a study in irony, and the irony begins with the title. On one level, the title is straightforward and appropriate, because the goose fish occupies center stage in the poem’s “story”: It is assigned many roles, including onlooker, comedian, optimist, emblem, and patriarch. The irony is that the fish is dead, so one might well wonder how significant any of those roles might be. The poem is in iambic tetrameter and trimeter, in five stanzas of nine lines each (eight lines of tetrameter and the last of trimeter).

The first stanza sets the scene—a moonlit night on the beach—and contains the poem’s central action: Two people, believing themselves alone, passionately embrace. For a short time, they believe themselves “emparadised” on the “long shore” where “their shadows [are] as one.” In stanza 2, the lovers feel embarrassed afterward, but nevertheless stand united, “conspiring hand in hand.” Believing themselves alone, they are shocked to discover that they have been “watched” by a goose fish “turning up, though dead/ His hugely grinning head.” This ghoulish discovery not only shocks them but also induces guilt. The presence of the goose fish, in a sense, “gooses” the lovers out of self-centeredness into the realization that their lovemaking did not take place in isolation.

Stanza 3 shows the lovers staring at the dead fish, wondering at its significance. Before discovering it, the...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The action in “The Goose Fish” is achieved through the lovers’ experience of different stages of feeling and knowing, rather than through their experiencing severe external actions. In fact, the movement in the poem is based on their responses after they make love, not on the lovemaking itself. The poem is unified by its images, two explicit—the moon and fish—and one implicit, that of the drama.

This drama image frames the poem. It has been noted that “The Goose Fish” is structured like a drama, with its five verses taking the place of five acts in a play. The lovers are actors upon the “stage” of the long beach. The moon serves as spotlight for an audience of one, the fish. When the lovers are finished with their lovemaking, they are embarrassed, “as if shaken by stage-fright.” They stand together “on the sand,” “hand in hand” like actors taking a bow on the stage. In this context, the goose fish is considered “a comedian” whose act “might mean failure or success.” The moon’s decline in the last stanza is like the fall of a curtain on the last act.

Two explicit images dominate and organize “The Goose Fish”—the moon and the fish. “Moon” in some form and the fish appear in each stanza. In the first stanza, the moon is mentioned but not emphasized. The moon serves as a spotlight to convince the lovers that they are alone, as they see no one else in its light. Then the moon becomes “hard” and...

(The entire section is 473 words.)