Modern American poetry is characterized by a variety of themes and issues that capture poets’ minds and become continuously addressed in their works. Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry is particularly marked by the heterogeneity and complexity of intersecting themes. The poem entitled “The Fish” is one such works, where the themes of human relationships with nature and animals, as well as aging and wisdom, are conveyed.
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The issues of aging and the associated acquired wisdom constitute one of the central messages of the poem. The fish that is very old, torn, with patterns “stained and lost through age” is described in detail to emphasize the suffering of the long journey it experienced. The ability to withstand hardships with dignity is something people should learn. The relevance of the fish’s wisdom throughout the long life is reaffirmed by the poet’s referral to the fish as a ‘he,’ thus, providing it with human characteristics.
Bishop also addresses the relationship people have constructed with nature and its inhabitants. The author’s goal is to emphasize that humans take animals for granted without acknowledging them as living beings. In the poem, the narrator compares herself with the fish and notices that the fish’s eyes are bigger than hers; the eyes “shifted a little, but not to return my stare” when the narrator looked into them (Bishop par. 1). Therefore, animals are portrayed as equal or even better than humans, and the epiphany the narrator experiences at the end of the poem when releasing the fish vividly demonstrates that.
The author’s masterful gradual shifting of the narration throughout the poem allows for both themes to evolve. First, the poem’s mood and its narration are focused on the fact that a “tremendous fish” has been caught, implying a seemingly common occurrence (Bishop par. 1). However, toward the middle and the end of the poem, the author shifts toward the fish as a central figure, a symbol of wisdom, persistence, and unbreakable will.
In conclusion, the portrayed themes include wisdom, aging, and the relationships between humans and animals. The fish is presented as an old, wise, and strong being that might teach the narrator a lesson on how to withstand the hardships of life. As the poem evolves, the fish is perceived by the narrator as an equal and respect-deserving living being, thus implying the importance of living in harmony with nature.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Fish.” Poets, 2011. Web.