Elizabeth Bishop is considered to be one of the most famous female writers of the 20th century. Some say her poetry is rather cold and objective because her personality is never present in her writings. However, all of her works are very detailed and precise. Bishop could work on one poem for years, constantly reworking the drafts and trying to make it as perfect as she could. She only published around 275 pages of poems during her life, but there was nothing sloppy about her works. In poetry, she was a perfectionist with great attention to detail.
The poem “The Fish” starts by describing the speaker fishing in the boat she rented. The woman catches a fish and observes her catch for a long time. She holds him partly in the water beside the boat. The fish appears to be rusty and old looking. There are algae and barnacles growing on him, and five fishing hooks are sticking out of him. The string is still attached and is hanging out of his jaw.
The speaker thinks of how tough this fish should have been be as he probably had to fight very hard. She begins to pity and respect her catch. Then she notices an oil spillage from the boat that forms a rainbow on the water, and overcome with her feelings and emotions she lets the fish go.
The speaker’s expectation of fishing is quite different from the reality; obviously she wants to catch something, but when she catches a fish, it is not so fulfilling. She ponders about the fish for too long and comes from being curios about it to feeling respect towards it and admiring it. At the end, it is not just a fish. To the speaker, it is much more, and she describes it as a decorated war hero. Something about the fish, probably his age or vulnerable look makes the speaker regret her deed, and she lets the poor thing go.
Elizabeth Bishop pays great attention not only to detail in this poem, but also the color scheme. At the beginning, it is not hard to notice that the colors are bland, but the color palette changes as the poem progresses. The boring colors of brown and white are replaced with vibrant yellow, orange, red and so on until a rainbow appears at the end. The rainbow symbolizes a moment of epiphany and victory of freedom.