Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In some ways, this poem resists interpretation. It seems to want to remain on the surface, on the level of description only. As with much minimalist fiction, however, there is a hint of another world beneath the poem’s prosaic language. Perhaps in the same way that the sturgeon is brought up out of the depths and hung up to dry, this memory that Carver is dragging out of the subconscious is on display for all to see.

What makes this story/poem interesting is the narrator’s inability to piece together the story entirely. Yes, he remembers chapter and verse descriptions of the huge fish, but he admits to only partial knowledge of the significance of the memory: “I don’t remember much else—maybe it got away/ even then.” The memories surface “now and then,” and he cannot capture the past in its entirety; it is this honesty that is so winning in the poem. The reader believes a poet who admits fallibility. Also, the poem accrues some tension by this paralleling of encyclopedic fact and incomplete memories, if in fact anything happened—anything “significant”—when he actually stood with his father “staring up at that great dead fish.”

Although the poem rejects the traditional devices of poetry—metrics, metaphors, images, or lush sounds—in some ways the poem can be seen as an old-fashioned allegory. The poet is similar to the team of horses in his father’s story that is trying to drag the fish—or in the poet’s case...

(The entire section is 572 words.)