Elizabeth Bishop was a keen fisherwoman. This poem was written when she lived in Florida, and it tells of a real experience she had when fishing off Key West. Summary and analysis
The poem is narrated in the first person, which gives a sense of intimacy and draws the reader into the tale. The poet tells us of a fishing trip in a rented boat. She succeeds in catching 'a tremendous fish' and pulls him half out of the water with her fish hook lodged firmly in the corner of his mouth. She de- scribes the fish as ‘venerable’. This word is used to describe an elderly person who deserves our respect. Here, Bishop is giving human qualities to a non-human creature. This is called anthro- pomorphising. The fish doesn't fight, a fact which clearly surprises the poet as she repeats it: 'He didn't fight, He hadn't fought at all.' Instead, the fish merely hangs limply on the line, thereby giving the poet a chance to observe him more closely. He is obviously an old fish: large, heavy and ugly yet deserving of respect. She notices his skin, ragged and peeling; and it reminds her of old, floral wallpaper. The fish is also infested with sea-lice and barnacles and has seaweed hanging from his stomach. All the time - as she is ob- serving these details about the fish - he is slowly dying, gasping for air through bleeding gills. Bishop now begins to wonder what his insides would be like. She thinks his flesh would be white, the flakes overlapping tightly like a bird's feathers, and his entrails (guts) would be vivid by com- parison, red and black. Unusually, she imagines his swim-bladder as resembling a big peonyNow the poet looks into the fish's eyes, trying to engage him in some way. She sees nothing but large, yellowish eyes which are clouded and don't reflect her own stare. At this point the fish's eyes move but still he doesn't look at Bishop; instead it is as if he is looking towards the light. Bishop uses assonance and alliteration to add to the...
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