The first impression one gets from reading Elizabeth Bishopâ€™s â€œThe Fishâ€ is that of a poem about your basic fishing trip. A closer look at the imagery used by Bishop reveals a poem that has a different intended meaning. She has created a poem that enables the reader to feel what the characters go through. The real theme of Bishopâ€™s poem is that of humanitarianism and respect for a fishâ€™s lifelong will to survive. Most people have been fishing before, but never stopped to think how the fishes feel when they are captured. By cautiously and effectively describing the captured fish, the reactions the fish portrays after being caught, and the symbolic marks on the fishâ€™s body of his past struggles from struggles to stay alive, Bishop creates, through her images of elegance, victory, and survival, something more than a simple fishing story. She creates a path for the reader to see and feel the fishâ€™s side of the story.
The first four lines of the poem are for the most part normal and contain just the facts:.
I caught a tremendous fish .
and held him beside the boat .
half out of water, with my hook .
fast in a corner of his mouth. (1-4).
Except for tremendous, Bishopâ€™s persona uses no exaggerations unlike most fishing stories--to set up the situation of catching the fish. The detailed description begins as the speaker recounts the event further, noticing something signally important about the captive fish: â€œHe didnâ€™t fightâ€ (5). At this point, the poem begins to seem unusual: most fish stories are about how ferociously the prey resists being captured. The speaker also notes that the â€œbattered and venerable/ and homelyâ€ fish offered no resistance to being caught (8-9). The image of the submissive attitude of the fish is essential to the theme of the poem.
Once the image of the passive fish has been established, the speaker begins an examination of the fish itself, nothing that â€œHere and there/ his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wall-paperâ€ (9-11).