The image of fish
The image of fish
Kevin Roberts uses the image of fish in both his poems – Skating Down Trout and A Fish Too Big – to explore existential anguish in the point of view of the water creatures. In both poems, the fishes were presented as living in some kind of prison – the trout in Skating Down was walled beneath ice, while the Arwanna at A Fish Too Big could barely move inside the enclosed aquarium. Although Roberts used fishes in both poems, he evoked different speculations about life drawing from the reactions of the fishes to their situations.
In the first poem, the objective reality was that the trout were living beneath the ice, and were safe against hunters who wish to make them dinner. The trout do not know that the ice functions like a shield to protect them from danger. Down there, nothing can touch them as long as the ice stands between the shadows and danger (lines 13-18). But the trout are easily scared, and their fears get the better of them – driven by forms only the fish makes substance until in panic at the hiss and whir
of the steel blades it runs defeats itself – they end up driving the nails to their own coffin, prized catch to the hunters. If only the trout had more faith in their own environment where they had managed to survive for so long, then perhaps they would still be alive. They created their own deaths by giving in to their fears. On the other hand, the Arwanna in A Fish Too Big is opposite. The Arwanna was depicted as too big for its aquarium that it has no room to move anymore, a prisoner behind glass.
The Arwanna The Arwanna could easily leap out or break its aquarium if it wanted to because of its sheer size, but the Arwanna accepts it fate and stays calm. If it chooses to move about and free itself from its cage, then the Arwanna will undoubtedly die. And so the Arwanna chooses to stay still, as the Thais say in lines 31-32: … what can you do / without fate chance luck. It seems that the Arwanna has indeed accepted its situation, and have given up. What it needed was fate, or chance, or luck, to be able to get out of the situation.
It sends an indirect statement saying that there is very little we can do about what happens to us; that in the end, death is a looming inevitability, and what one can do is live the life given to it before death comes knocking at one’s door. The last three lines And what can the fish or I do / about our own shrinking / glass cage of flesh? sums up the existential anguish the speaker is experiencing. The speaker was watching the Arwanna the whole time but was subconsciously relating himself to the fish, finding himself trapped with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait for impending death stuck in his situation.
However, there is a sense of peace as compared to the first poem. For in the first poem, the trout faced no real danger but because of its restlessness and fear ended up dead. But its fear is not without reason: they were being hunted. In contrast, although there was no aggressive hunter about to kill the Arwanna, the fish faced a terrible situation – it was caged and could not move, but if it tried to it will face death outside its prison.
The main difference between the two was that the Arwanna has accepted its life and lived a life of calm, whereas the trout lived a life of fear. Roberts used the image of fish in both his poems, but he to different effects. The trout lived in an environment where they were hunted, but could easily escape its hunters by staying deep in the water. The Arwanna had no choice but to breathe inside its cell, or choose death. Even so, the trout who had more freedom than the Arwanna dived in to its demise because of its recklessness, because it let fear consume it.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 28 November 2016
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