Saturday, July 17, 2010

Free Fish

Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish" provides insight into the interesting thought process of a fisherman regarding an old fish. The fisherman is the narrator of the poem and begins by physically describing the fish. Its brown and tattered skin, resembling "wallpaper", is clearly old, dull, and worn. He notices its gills and ponders the fish's inner anatomy, pointing out how fragile the fish's life is at this point and how much he controls its fate. He speaks of its eyes, "yellowed" and "shallow" as if "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil." Its eyes would not look at him, it would not fight. It was as if the fish had resigned itself to death by his hands.
As he continues to observe the fish, he looks at its mouth, "grim" and "weaponlike" and sees five hooks, "like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering" set in its jaw, trailing fishing line, evidence of the battles it had fought and won. Now the narrator sees the fish in a different light. Rather than seeing an old, tired, pitiful fish, he sees a seasoned war veteran, strong and courageous, time-honored and and respectable, ready to accept its final defeat with dignity. Earlier in the poem, when describing the fish's physical appearance, the narrator used the word venerable. In that context, he was calling the fish, ancient, or obsolete, but here, after realizing all this fish has been through, the word could more properly describe the animal as "commanding respect because of impressive dignity" or "worthy of reverence" as venerable is defined at
Because of the respect he found for this fish who had fought for its life so many times, the narrator ultimately releases the fish back into the water. This sixth chance is precious in a world where life is so disposable.

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