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Imagery and Diction in The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop

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Imagery and Diction in The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop's use of imagery and diction in "The Fish" is meant to support the themes of observation and the deceptive nature of surface appearance. Throughout the course of the poem these themes lead the narrator to the important realization that aging (as represented by the fish) is not a negative process, and allows for a reverie for all life. Imagery and diction are the cornerstone methods implemented by Bishop in the symbolic nature of this poem.
The title of the poem itself dictates the simplicity Bishop wishes to convey regarding the narrator's view of his catch. A fish is a creature that has preceded the creation of man on this planet. Therefore, Bishop supplies the reader with a subject that is essentially constant and eternal, like life itself. In further examination of this idea the narrator is, in relation to the fish, very young, which helps introduce the theme of deceptive appearances in conjunction with age by building off the notion that youth is ignorant and quick to judge.
Bishop's initial description of the fish is meant to further develop this theme by presenting the reader with a fish that is "battered," "venerable," and "homely." Bishop compares the fish to "ancient wallpaper." Even without the word ancient preceding it, the general conception of wallpaper is something that fades into the background. One is not supposed to take much notice of it. To add to this impartial picture, the fish is brown, the signature color of dullness. "Shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age" (lines 14-15) further cement the image of something with little time left. Fully bloomed roses conjure the image of a flower whose petals are at t...


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...tor's growing relationship with the fish. She creates, first, an image of the fish as a helpless captive and the reader is allowed to feel sorry for the fish and even pity his situation as the narrator does. The narrator's relationship with the fish then grows to one of personal regard as he engages in further study and is able to look past his initial observation. The parting image of the rainbow offers a perfect way to drive home the process of aging as a dignified and even celebratory act. Not only is it a very optimistic image of color and gaiety, but the rainbow is traditionally paired with the concept of treasure once the end of it is reached. When applied to the intended message of the poem, it may be interpreted that Bishop is implying that nearing the end of one's life is like nearing the end of the rainbow and accepting a reward for a life well lived.

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