Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” Essay
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish”
* The Theme of ‘True’ Beauty or ‘Inner’ Beauty:
Neither her battered boat nor the “venerable” old fish is beautiful in conventional terms. Their beauty lies in having survived, & when the speaker realizes this, “victory filled up / the little rented boat” & she understands that “everything / was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” That is when she lets the fish return to his home in the water. The fish helps Bishop to notice true beauty: “The fish is only ugly or grotesque to the untrained or unempathic eye” (McCabe). The notion causes her to see other objects around her differently.
Everything is a rainbow when she looks around. This feeling allows her to release the fish. The release, significant in its own sense, acknowledges Bishop’s respect for the fish. The poet, struck by the otherworldly beauty w/ which ordinary objects sometimes appear, as if cast in a color not their own, releases her concentrated gaze, & gives up both the poem & the fish. The composite image of the fish’s essential beauty–his being alive–is developed further in the description of the 5 fishhooks that the captive, living fish carries in his lip.
* The Theme of Respect & Admiration:
The admiration for the fish is ironic since he was detested when 1st caught. The relationship tween the fish & Bishop becomes even closer when she notices his lip. These broken fishing lines are the turning point tween her & the fish. Now, Bishop considers the catch an accomplishment. She sees evidence that 5 others have tried unsuccessfully to bring in this fish. The fish evolves into a majestic character She is able to use the description of the fish’s lip to evoke the idea of respect.
The fish’s “beard” personifies him, characterizing him as intelligent. She values the fish because she realizes he has eluded other anglers. The ultimate respect is expressed w/ the fish’s release. Bishop knows the fish “…can’t be kept, but must be let go” (McCabe). Bishop recognizes that she will be able to hold the moment closer as a memory than by keeping the fish as a trophy. The real theme of Bishop’s poem is that of humanitarianism & respect for a fish’s lifelong will to survive.