Imagery and Diction in The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop's use of imagery and diction in "The Fish" is meant to support the themes of observation and the deceptive nature of surface appearance. Throughout the course of the poem these themes lead the narrator to the important realization that aging (as represented by the fish) is not a negative process, and allows for a reverie for all life. Imagery and diction are the cornerstone methods implemented by Bishop in the symbolic nature of this poem.
The title of the poem itself dictates the simplicity Bishop wishes to convey regarding the narrator's view of his catch. A fish is a creature that has preceded the creation of man on this planet. Therefore, Bishop supplies the reader with a subject that is essentially constant and eternal, like life itself. In further examination of this idea the narrator is, in relation to the fish, very young, which helps introduce the theme of deceptive appearances in conjunction with age by building off the notion that youth is ignorant and quick to judge.
Bishop's initial description of the fish is meant to further develop this theme by presenting the reader with a fish that is "battered," "venerable," and "homely." Bishop compares the fish to "ancient wallpaper." Even without the word ancient preceding it, the general conception of wallpaper is something that fades into the background. One is not supposed to take much notice of it. To add to this impartial picture, the fish is brown, the signature color of dullness. "Shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age" (lines 14-15) further cement the image of something with little time left. Fully bloomed roses conjure the image of a flower whose petals are at the stage of falling off. This image is not even afforded the color and vibrancy usually associated with flowers. Instead, Bishop uses the words "stained" and "lost" which imply an absence of color. She even names the culprit in line 15 with the phrase, "lost through age." With this phrase it is made clear that the fisherman associates vivaciousness with youth. Through Bishop's imagery, the fish is portrayed as something archaic. This serves to create a distance between the narrator and the subject as it stresses the gap between youth and age.
The second half of the poem is marked by a bridge in this gap as the narrator engages in a more empirical study of the fish, thus heightening the sense of epiphany that the narrator reaches by the end of the poem. This idea is supported by the frequented use of self-address implemented in the second half. The speaker becomes more involved. "I thought," "I looked," "I admired," all produce a more active role on the part of the fisherman.
The turning point in the poem that triggers this alteration is when the narrator realizes that the fish is, in fact, still alive. "While his gills were breathing" (line 22) is the first action given to the fish and the first time he is...