Andrienne Rich once said, I am an instrument in the shape of a woman trying to translate pulsations into images. Elizabeth Bishop applies Rich s quote in the poem The Fish. The poem tells about a situation where Bishop catches an unattractive fish. As she studies the fish closer, Bishop notices that the fish has special characteristics. These features slowly carry the fish from an unworthy catch to a great accomplishment. Bishop s use of imagery allows the reader to see a fish that becomes more than just an ordinary catch. By gaining respect from Bishop, the fish becomes a triumph.
With a grunting weight, Bishop reels in a lethargic, old, unpleasant fish. At first glance, Bishop sees no qualities that make the catch worthwhile. With imagery, Bishop is able to assert the idea that the fish is not wanted. The brown skin [hanging] in strips like ancient wall-paper, and its pattern of darker brown like wall-paper give the fish an unappealing quality (13). The dull colors and reference to age suggest to the reader that the fish is not special.
Bishop begins to study the fish closely. She pays greater attention to detail. The colors begin to shift from dull to bright. This change is seen when Bishop depicts the fish s wound:
Bishop begins to appreciate the fish. The dramatic change in colors adds to the idea. The reader interprets Bishop s mood change through the flattery of the fish.
Bishop looks at the fish s eyes and [admires] his sullen face (45). The admiration for the fish is ironic since he was detested when first caught. The relationship between the fish and Bishop becomes even closer when she notices his lip. Hanging there are five old pieces of fish-line/ with all there five big hooks/grown firmly in his mouth (55). These broken fishing lines are the turning point between Bishop and the fish. Now, Bishop considers the catch an accomplishment. She sees evidence that five others have tried unsuccessfully to bring in this fish. The fish evolves into a majestic character:
Like medals with their ribbons
Frayed and wavering,
A five-haired beard of wisdom
[trails] from his aching jaw. (64)
The beard helps establish the respect that Bishop gains for the fish.
The fish helps Bishop to notice true beauty: The fish is only ugly or grotesque to the untrained or unempathic eye (McCabe). The notion causes her to see other objects around her differently. She starts describing every aspect of her rusted old boat. She is overwhelmed by such an event. As she watches the fish, she notices the oil that is collecting in her boat. The oil makes a rainbow of colors, which is used as a metaphor for her victory. [Victory fills] up the little rented boat,/ where oil [spreads] a rainbow she states (68). Bishop is dominated by victory. Everything is a rainbow when Bishop looks around. This feeling allows her to release the fish. The release, significant in its own sense, acknowledges Bishop s respect for the fish.
Like many expressions in the poem, Bishop uses color to express her mood. Not only is she able to express mood, but also her colors present a clear theme. As the reader is taken through the accounts of the catch, Bishop transforms from a character who cares little for the fish to one who is able to appreciate simple things. The transformation plays an important part in showing Bishop s central idea. Through seeing more than just an old and ugly fish, the reader learns that some significant lessons come in small packages. Bishop learns it by way of the fish. She realizes the fish has been hooked several times, but the frayed fishing lines mean no one has actually been able to boat him. Bishop, thrilled by this fact, begins to notice small details in everything. The feeling of success creates her perspective.
Another message in The Fish is the idea of respect. Bishop is able to use the description of the fish s lip to evoke the idea of respect. The fish s beard personifies him, characterizing him as intelligent. Bishop values the fish because she realizes he has eluded other anglers. The ultimate respect is expressed with the fish s release. Bishop knows the fish can t be kept, but must be let go (McCabe). Bishop recognizes that she will be able to hold the moment closer as a memory than by keeping the fish as a trophy.
Bishop goes through a dramatic change in The Fish. She learns that some things are not always as they seem. Bishop portrays this theme by the use of imagery. With colors, Bishop exposes the fish s real character. She goes through a process where she realizes that it is more important to save the memory of her great catch than to keep the fish as a physical trophy. Her symbolic realization of the fish s important past help Ms. Bishop change her feelings of criticism to a genuine sentiment of admiration.