The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop: Gone Fishin'


"The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop is saturated with vivid imagery and
abundant description, which help the reader visualize the action. Bishop's use
of imagery, narration, and tone allow the reader to visualize the fish and
create a bond with him, a bond in which the reader has a great deal of
admiration for the fish's plight. The mental pictures created are, in fact, so
brilliant that the reader believes incident actually happened to a real person,
thus building respect from the reader to the fish.
Initially the reader is bombarded with an intense image of the fish; he
is "tremendous," "battered," "venerable," and "homely." The reader is
sympathetic with the fish's situation, and can relate because everyone has been
fishing. Next, Bishop compares the fish to familiar household objects: "here and
there / his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper, / and its
pattern of darker brown / was like wallpaper;" she uses two similes with common
objects to create sympathy for the captive. Bishop then goes on to clearly
illustrate what she means by "wallpaper": "shapes like full-blown roses /
stained and lost through age." She uses another simile here paired with
descriptive phrases, and these effectively depict a personal image of the fish.
She uses the familiar "wallpaper" comparison because it is something the
readers can relate to their own lives. Also the "ancient wallpaper" analogy can
refer to the fish's age. Although faded and aged he withstood the test of time,
like the wallp aper. Bishop uses highly descriptive words like "speckled" and
"infested" to create an even clearer mental picture. The word "terrible" is
used to describe oxygen, and this is ironic because oxygen is usually beneficial,
but in the case of the fish it is detrimental. The use of "terrible" allows
the reader to visualize the fish gasping for breaths and fighting against the
"terrible oxygen," permitting us to see the fish's predicament on his level.
The word frightening does essentially the same thing in the next phrase, "the
frightening gills." It creates a negative image of something (gills) usually
considered favorable, producing an intense visual with minimal words. Another
simile is used to help the reader picture the fish's struggle: "coarse white
flesh packed in like feathers." This wording intensifies the reader's initial
view of the fish, and creates a visual, again, on the reader's level.
Bishop next relates to the fish on a personal basis: "I looked into his
eyes… …I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw." Through this
intense diction, a tone of respect is produced. It is as if, for a moment, the
poet descended to the fish's level, and the reader then has more respect for the
fish's situation and the narrator's position regarding the fish. She described
the fish's stare "like the tipping of an object towards the light;" this very
astute observation shows the reader that the poet is thinking deeply about the
fish, and there is a connection made on the part of the poet. The lip "if you
could call it a lip" is the next part observed. It is described as "grim,"
"wet," and "weapon-like," giving the reader, through personification, a "fishy"
view of the creature as he actually exists. As she explains the hooks and lines
caught in his lip, the reader learns that his lip has grown around the hooks,
thus becoming part of the fish. These appendages hang "like medals with their
ribbons frayed and wavering," creating the image of a hero winning many
competitions or battles. This simile creates another level of respect for the
fish on the part of the narrator, and following the simile is a metaphor which
emphasizes the narrator's ensuing admiration for the fish. The fish is now
considered "wise" with his "five-haired beard of wisdom trailing behind his
aching jaw;" and he is now on a higher plateau of respect.
The narrator then compares this little fish's greatness with her boat.
This "rented boat" "leaking oil" from its "rusted engine" created a rainbow so
beautiful that she became overwhelmed and released the fish. The boat started
out imperfect, but so overwhelmed the poet, that she released the fish. Here,
the boat can be compared to the fish, in it's initial imperfection, then to its
final magnificence. The descriptive words allow the reader to, again, visualize
the moment vividly through the eyes of the narrator.
Bishop does an outstanding job in describing every moment in her
growing relationship with the fish. She creates, first, an image of a helpless
captive and the