Elizabeth Bishop’s poem "The Fish" is a work in which a fisherman takes a detailed observation of a fish. With a closer look at the poem, it becomes apparent that the fisherman develops a connection with the fish on three different levels. The fisherman connects with the fish physically, in age, and mentally.
The fisherman and the fish are connected by the physical similarities between the two. The fisherman talks about the fish’s “coarse white flesh,” like the flesh of the fisherman (27). The author talks about the small and large bones in the fish, which is similar to a human’s small and large bones in his or her body. The author then goes on to compare her eyes with the eyes of the fish. The author says, “I looked into his eyes / which were far larger than mine / but shallower, and yellowed,” showing the similarities and differences between the two (34-36). The author then begins to talk about the similarities between the two mouths. The author uses the word lip giving the fish human-like characteristics, putting the fish on the same level as the author. The fish and the fisherman are connected on more levels than just the physical.
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Throughout the poem, the author notes the fish’s experience. Bishop starts by noticing the fish’s outside appearance. She writes, “… Here and there / his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper,” showing how the fish’s skin has changed with its age (9-11). Bishop then says that “He was speckled with barnacles,” which indicates that the fish has been in the water a very long time (16). The author goes on to talk about the appearance of the fish’s eyes by saying,
“the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.” (37-40)
This quotation further emphasizes the fish’s age. Bishop moves her focus to the fish’s mouth, where she notices “… five old pieces of fish-line,” (51). She describes the hooks as, “a five-haired beard of wisdom” (63). This goes on to show the fish’s age and experience. The reason that the fisherman focuses so much on the age of the fish is because it causes the fisherman to meditate on her own life and experience, which allows her to connect with the fish on that level.
Lastly, the fisherman tries to connect with the fish on a mental level. The fisherman begins her quest to connect with the fish on a mental level when she looks into its eyes. Eyes are seen as a passageway into one’s mind. The fish does not seem to have the same interest in the fisherman.
This is shown when the author writes, “They [the fish’s eyes] shifted a little, but not / to return my stare.” (41-42). The fisherman is unable to connect with the fish until oil from her boat creates a rainbow in the water. A rainbow is a symbol of good after the bad. The fisherman lets the fish go, which gives the fish another chance at life. The fisherman does this because she hopes that one day her act of goodwill will come back to her in her favor when she is in a tough spot. This rainbow in the water allows the fisherman to finally connect with the fish on a mental level.
By the end of the poem, the fisherman connects with her catch on three different levels. First, she connects with the fish physically. Then, she connects with the fish in age and experience. Lastly, with the notice of the rainbow, the fisherman connects with the fish in thought. This allows the fisherman to further understand her catch and come to the decision to let it go.
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