In the poem “The Fish,” Elizabeth Bishop uses a fish as a symbol to express the theme of life and experience. The poem by itself has little structure to it. There are no apparent rhyme schemes, nor any clear meters. However, Bishop uses very powerful diction and ideas in the poem, forcing the reader to think and relate it to a greater aspect of his/her own life. The persona has a very mature and serious tone, and some gloomy element to his/her mood. The poem uses a significant amount of imagery. Descriptions like “brown skin hung in strips” and “fresh and crisp with blood” are common throughout the poem. The reader can almost see the fish on the boat, waiting for its life to end. Bishop also uses a plethora of colors in the poem. Colors include: “brown skin,” “green weed,” “dramatic reds and blacks,” “yellowed,” “green line,” and it also contains the combination of all the colors in the spectrum as “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” was repeated in the poem. The Colors are there to enhance the imagery and also work archetypically to express the mood of the poem.
When the persona states that the “oil had spread a rainbow,” it should indicate that tears has formed in her eyes, splitting the light into its spectrum, as she also mentions “sun-cracked thwarts.” At the end where “everything was rainbow,” tears had flooded her eyes, blurring every sight and showing only splashes of colors all around. At the beginning of the poem, the persona notes that the fish did not fight at all. She describes the fish as “battered,” “homely,” but yet “venerable.” Later she discovers that the fish has fought many battles, and the broken lines are signs of victory. She realizes the fish is not just something that gives up without a fight, but it is something that has just fought too long and is tired of it.
The persona realizes what the fish has gone through and instantly gains respect and condemnation for it. She lets it go. For writing this poem, the author might have a family member that was suffering from a disease. After a long time of painful struggle, that member finally gives up because he/she saw through the value of life, just like the fish. However, there is one thing that I disagree with the persona, because she states the fish has “a five-haired beard of wisdom.” In my opinion it should be “five-haired beard of stupidity” since the fish cannot learn from its past.