Elizabeth Bishop's Poem, The Fish

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In the poem, “The Fish”, Elizabeth Bishop writes of “victory filled up\ the little rented boat” just before she lets the fish go. In this statement, she shows her realization that she has indeed found victory in understanding and empathy; it is because of this that she ultimately releases the fish.
Initially, the fish appears resigned to its fate, “He didn’t fight.\ He hadn’t fought at all.” However, there is more to the fish than just a word “tremendous.” As the narrator continues to inspect the fish, various signs on the fish create a tale of a vivid life. “He was speckled with barnacles,\ fine rosettes of lime,\ and infested\ with tiny sea-lice.” The fish has clearly lived a very long life, as its size and barnacles testify: a smaller fish could not support the barnacles, nor would it have lived long enough for them to find a hold. The fish also has not lived a sedentary life, as “from his lower lip... hung five old pieces of fish-line,\ or four and a
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The narrator develops a sense of empathy with the fish, which is Bishop conveys through multiple passages. “While his gills were breathing in\ the terrible oxygen.” The fish is drowning in the air, unable to take breath. Though the air is good for the narrator, the narrator refers to it as “terrible” out of empathy for the fish. The narrator also “looked into his eyes”, again showing a sense of compassion for the fish’s plight, even if they appear somewhat lifeless. In the broken fishing lines, the narrator sees “medals with their ribbons\ frayed and wavering,\ a five-haired beard of wisdom\ trailing from his aching jaw.” In this case the narrator sees a fish that has survived the tough life of the water, and respects its ability to survive. It is at this point that the narrator feels victory, and lets the fish go. The narrator has learned to understand the fish, and in finding this knowledge, feels the necessity of setting it free once
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