Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”

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“The Fish,” written by Elizabeth Bishop in 1946, is perhaps most known for its incredible use of imagery, but this analysis does not merely focus on imagery. Instead, it is based on a quote by Mark Doty from his essay “A Tremendous Fish.” In it he says, “‘The Fish’” is a carefully rendered model of an engaged mind at work” (Doty). After reading this statement, it causes one to reflect more in-depth about how the poem was written, and not just about what its literal meaning lays out. In “The Fish,” Bishop’s utilization of certain similes, imagery in the last few lines, narrative poem style, and use of punctuation allows the audience to transport into the life of the fish; therefore, allowing them to understand Bishop’s ideas on freedom and wisdom.
In “The Fish,” Bishop uses four similes, in particular, that permit the audience to understand the feelings of freedom and wisdom. The first simile compares the fish’s skin, using “like,” to “ancient wallpaper / …/ stained and lost through age” (Bishop, Lines 13-5). By Bishop using this simile, the audience can undoubtedly recognize that the fish is being portrayed as elderly. As in countless cases before, the idea of elderly is considered to be a symbol or reference of wisdom. Thus, this depiction of the fish being old produces the idea that the fish, in part, represents wisdom. The second and third similes Bishop use states, “I thought of the coarse white flesh / packed like feathers” (Bishop, LL 27-8), and “The pink swim-bladder / like a big peony” ( LL 32-3). What do these similes have to do with the ideas of freedom and wisdom? Absolutely nothing. The significance of these similes, according to Doty, is that Bishop is able to enter back-and-forth into the body of the fis...

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... ways in which Bishop used particular similes, imagery in the last few lines, a narrative poem style, and punctuation has allowed her audience to transport into the life of the fish; thus, enabling the audience to understand her ideas of freedom and wisdom.

Works Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Fish.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. ED. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2012. 73-5. Print
Doty, Mark. “A Tremendous Fish.” New England Review 31.2 (2010): 58+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.
Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 4th AP ed. New Jersey: Pearson, 2008. 528-35. Print.
Taylor, Marilyn L. “Tell Them a Story: A Memorable Narrative Poem Features Three Key Elements: Plot, Voice, and Point of View.” The Writer. 125.4 (2012): 17-18. EBSCO Host. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.
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