Elizabeth Bishop Essay

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Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" is a narrative poem, told in the first person, about the confrontation between an amateur fisher--fishing in a "rented boat" (Bishop 1212; all references to the poem are to this edition)--and a "tremendous" battle-worn fish. A poem that acknowledges awareness in nature, "The Fish," although a narrative, sings in the way we expect lyric poetry to sing, for it is rich with imagery, simile, metaphor, as well as rhetorical and sound devices. I say "confrontation," but really the fish, with evidence of having been caught at least five other times, confronts the speaker (whom I'll call a "she" for convenience) only with its presence: the fight has gone out of him. The real confrontation is the speaker's internal struggle: should she keep the fish or throw it back? In a moment of illumination, she does the latter. Bishop's poem endows its fish with an awareness not very different from human awareness. That this is a poem of "twofold consciousness," to use Robert Bly's term for poems that "grant nature an enormous amount of consciousness" (5)1, is indicated by Bishop's calling the fish a "he" instead of an "it." This is not mere personification, for she treats the fish as a sentient being, with feelings not unlike those of a human being. She admires the fish's "sullen face" as his eyes tip "toward the light," light which for us humans would symbolize consciousness but which for the creature of the water symbolizes the unconsciousness of death. The narrative may be summed up quickly, for what happens happens more quickly than the time it takes to read the poem. The speaker, out in a battle-worn, rented boat, catches the old fish, holds it "half out of water, with my hook / fast in a corner of his mouth." After examining the fish closely and sympathetically, she has, ironically, a moment of recognition (what Virginia Woolf might call a "moment

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