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.)