A poem without any complications can force an author to say more with much less. Although that may sound quite cliché, it rings true when one examines “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop. Elizabeth’s Bishop’s poem is on an exceedingly straightforward topic about the act of catching a fish. However, her ability to utilize thematic elements such as figurative language, imagery and tone allows for “The Fish” to be about something greater. These three elements weave themselves together to create a work of art that goes beyond its simple subject.
The first element to analyze when looking at “The Fish” is figurative language. The reader is drawn to this element because of its heavy emphasis throughout the poem. Elizabeth Bishop profusely uses similes with the intention of heightening the sensation of fishing. She writes:
[...] Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full blown roses (9-14)
In six lines of poetry the author is able to cram three similes all comparing the outer look of a fish to wallpaper. As anyone who has held a trout or a salmon can attest to the natural colors on these animals are not necessarily the brightest. A very good word to describe the browns on a fish are “drab” which makes wallpaper an excellent comparison for multiple reasons. First off, the comparison creates an accurate picture for the readers’ imagination of what the actual caught fish in the poem looks like. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, using the word “wallpaper” helps create a connection for the reader between boringness and objects from the domestic sphere. Throughout her entire poem, Elizabeth Bishop champions nature’s beauty through her descriptive and figurative language while demeaning manmade things. As the poem continues the similes become brighter and more energetic. At around the halfway mark of “The Fish” the speaker discusses the fishes eyes moving while holding it in their hands stating:
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
-- It was more like the tipping
of an object towards the light. (41-44)
Notice the shift in the poem at this moment. The turn is noticeable because instead of comparing parts of the fish to monotonous colors like brown, Elizabeth Bishop is instead comparing it to light. The word “light” has a connotation that is much brighter then her previously used similes. Because of this the poem is starting to change its tone from one of somberness to one of joy, but more on that later.
The second thematic element that stands out inside “The Fish” is the use of imagery with the specific use of colors throughout the entire poem. As discussed previously Elizabeth Brown begins her poem by comparing the fish to mundane browns while also using other colors to paint a picture for the reader. She writes, “with tiny white sea-lice,/ and underneath two or three/ rags of green weed hung down” (19-21). Utilizing colors...