The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Sturgeon,” written in free verse, consists of fifty-six lines, which are divided into five stanzas or verse paragraphs. The title bluntly states the apparent subject of the poem; as with other poem titles in this posthumous collection—“Wine,” “Suspenders,” “Lemonade,” “Letter,” and “Summer Fog,” for example—Raymond Carver does not force the title to mean anything. It simply names the object on which Carver decides to focus the poem.

The poem is written in the first person, and the speaker is the poet himself reminiscing about his father and the stories his father told him. The poem begins, however, with an objective description of a sturgeon. Unlike some of the more embellished nature poems by Marianne Moore or Elizabeth Bishop, Carver baldly describes the fish’s habitat, body, and habits: “the sturgeon is a bottom-feeder/ and can’t see well.” He continues, “The sturgeon/ lives aloneand takes/ 100 years getting around to its first mating.” This is not a baroque style to say the least; Carver’s words are as close to prose as poetry is likely to get.

The second stanza moves this description out of a timeless world into a specific moment in time with the description of a specific sturgeon. It seems the opening journalistic description was imitating or recalling “a sketchof its biography” of a nine-hundred-pound sturgeon the author and his father saw “winched up in a corner/ of the Agricultural...

(The entire section is 544 words.)