The Fish Poem Summary and Line by Line Analysis by Elizabeth Bishop in English


One of Elizabeth Bishop’s most well-known poems is titled “The Fish.” It has some hints about her personal life that readers can find. Bishop did go fishing when she was a little girl, despite the fact that nothing is known about her past. She probably went through anything like what was portrayed in “The Fish.”

Readers will experience the same avalanche of feelings as the main character experiences throughout this poem. She is conflicted about her accomplishment, the fish’s behavior and appearance, and what they reveal about its past. It has its own worth, resilience, and dignity, which the speaker chooses to uphold.

About the poet

Elizabeth Bishop was a poet and short story author from the United States. She served as the Library of Congress’s consultant on poetry from 1949 to 1950, won the National Book Award in 1970, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976.


One of those poems with an apparent simplicity on the surface but profound levels of significance is “The Fish.” Bishop discusses themes of nature, humility, and decision-making in the text. She has the option to release this exceptionally remarkable fish back into the sea when she has caught it.

A brief connection she felt with the animal later developed into a deeper bond with the natural world. Her mental state changed, and she found herself suddenly more involved than before. She was obviously moved by the history of this specific creature, how many times it had been caught, and how each time it had averted death. Another less evident theme—death—is addressed by this.

Lines 1-7

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,

The speaker of “The Fish” claims in the first few lines that she went fishing and caught a “tremendous fish.” She started a ferocious period of scrutiny as soon as the fish was out of the water. The speaker doesn’t quickly heave the fish into the boat, perhaps in part because he was surprised.

She observes that her hook is lodged where one would expect it to be, in the corner of its mouth, even though it is partially out of the water. The fish did not resist at all as she was pulling it in, the speaker emphasizes in lines five and six. The size of the fish makes this look unexpected.

If it had battled, there is a remote chance that it might have snapped in the line and escaped. Lines five, six, and seven all contain anaphora, which the reader should be aware of. The fish had a deadweight, which indicated a particular type of antagonism, even if it didn’t fight when she stumbled it in.

Lines 8-13

battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:

Bishop emphasizes the fish in the first two lines with the help of three adjectives. It is “venerable,” “battered,” and “homely.” These three sentences initially seem to contradict one another. But it is in no way the case. The speaker in Bishop’s story recognizes that the fish has previously been caught by using the phrase “battered.”

It might also allude to any wounds sustained by the fish in the water. She shows her regard for the animal by using the word “venerable.” She has made note of the prior wounds and scarring that have occurred. She is aware that the fish possesses strength, stamina, and perseverance that warrants respect.

She finally describes the fish as domestic. This term has the definition “unattractive.” She continues with the subsequent sentences, describing the fish’s skin in detail. Bishop utilizes a metaphor to describe it. She compares it to old wallpaper on an old house’s walls that is coming off. The flesh beneath is exposed as the strips are removed, and a new design is produced as the two various textures and colors contrast with one another.

Lines 14- 26

shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—

The speaker of “The Fish” compares the shapes of peeling flesh to “full-blown roses” in the opening two lines. This is yet another allusion to a wallpaper design. However, she is careful to point out that the paper pattern has been lost to time. However, it no longer appears the way those images do.

The skin has a variety of textures as well. The speaker returns to the wallpaper simile again due to this. They were “barnacles” and “fine rosettes of lime.” The speaker takes care to stay close to the creature’s “homely” characteristics. These rosettes and barnacles are infested with sea lice.

She also mentions how the fish are being affected by the oxygen. It is battling through the horrific start of this incredibly unique planet. The gills are described as “frightening,” and the oxygen is described as “awful.” They behave as though they are afraid. As a result of the hook being in the fish’s mouth, there is also blood.

Lines 27-33

I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.

The speaker is inspired to think about the fish’s interior in the next seven lines by the sight of the blood. She has caught, killed, and consumed these creatures before and is aware that the “white flesh” is “packed in like feathers.”

She explains the various size bones and the striking, strikingly varied, and emotive colors and shapes one would observe inside the fish’s body using this comparison. The roses on the wallpaper serve as the subject of another metaphor. The “swim bladder” resembles a “large peony” bloom this time.

Lines 34-44

I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.

Additionally, the speaker makes cautious to make a distinction between the fish and herself. He has far larger eyes than she does, but they are also yellower and narrower. Its eyes sparkle, just like the fish’s intestines. They have an “old tinfoil” appearance. She again draws parallels between the human body and the act of donning eyeglasses and the fish. The fish’s eyes move about in their sockets, but they do not turn to face her. She is but one more object in this dreadful but well-known universe. She compares the shifting eyes to objects that are “tipping toward the light.”

Lines 45-55

I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.

When she calls the fish’s visage “sullen,” she personifies or compares it to humans further. She also begins to mention its bottom lip before pausing. The dashes denote this specific point. She might not be a lip, so she is. It is much grimmer than a human lip and more like armament.

Most importantly, she observes that the fish’s lips include “five old pieces of the fishing line.” They are all still attached to their five large hooks, and the fact that they have “grown firmly in his mouth” determines how long they will remain there.

Lines 56- 64

A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.

The speaker describes the appearance of the hooks and fishing line in the following sentence. The poem gets shorter as a result of the in-depth analysis of these elements. The schedule seems to be progressing slowly on its own. She examines the fish, mesmerized by its existence and past.

The speaker sees the hooks and the threads that are linked to them as metals rather than as burdens. They speak to its venerability and strength. The speaker does a good job of understanding the fish. She explains the chin hairs as a sign of wisdom and deduces that the pain in its jaw must be severe.

Lines 65- 75

I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

As the speaker continues to look at the fish, she begins to feel victorious. With the capture of this beast, it seemed as if she had overcome some significant obstacles. Once more, a tonne of description is employed to make the lines go slowly. She notices the oil in the boat and how it has developed into a rainbow. Along with a few other minor details, the speaker could also make out how the sun had cracked the “thwarts.”

The mere fact that she managed to catch the fish says nothing about her strength or ability. The identical feat had been accomplished by five others before her. The final line demonstrates that they all experienced the same abstract thought. They were all moved to return the fish to the body of water.

It also raises the possibility that the fish had some awareness of how its capture would affect its catchers. It may have known that it was not in danger because it did not fight. It only had to experience momentary fear and agony before being freed.