Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden

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Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden IB HL English Literature – Practice Commentary Sibonay Koo Keith Douglas’ poem, “Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden”, is a brutal yet subtle exposé of the mindless, animalistic nature of society. Through his employment of an extended metaphor in the descriptions of fish beguiled by a white stone, an image that parallels the actions of a woman and her many suitors in a Tea Garden, he depicts and then proceeds to condemn mankind’s values. Vanity, lust, and selfishness are shown to be omnipresent, with both the men and the one woman in the poem displaying these traits; nevertheless, it is the men that are ultimately categorized as the cruder sex and more in the wrong, with the woman suggested to be just another victim of society. Initially, Douglas portrays the woman as mysterious and alluring, but also dual-natured. The poem opens in media res by having a “white stone [drawing] down the fish”. Perhaps signifying how the men regard her as physical perfection is the colour of the stone, as white is often associated with purity and refinement. Emphasizing this concept are her “hands” and fingers which are “white as milky stone”, as white hands have connotations of sensuality and conjure up images of seductresses from ages past. Nonetheless, juxtaposing her whiteness are her “red [lips]” and “carmined” nails, and as red is symbolic of lust, passion and danger, her duality/paradoxical nature/multifaceted nature is indicated. Whilst representing corporeal perfection and refinement, she also is symbol of a woman’s seductive side, and of their perhaps dangerous influence on men. Indeed, she is revealed as manipulative through the verb “draw”, as it is suggestive of slyness and carefully calculated actions, with other verbs such as “slyly” and “slips” reinforcing this other side of her nature. The theme of
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