With fewer than fifty published poems Elizabeth Bishop is not one of the most prominent poets of our time. She is however well known for her use of imagery and her ability to convey the narrators emotions to the reader. In her vividly visual poem The Fish, the reader is exposed to a story wherein the use of language not only draws the reader into the story but causes the images to transcend the written work. In the poem, Bishop makes use of numerous literary devices such as similes, adjectives, and descriptive language. All of these devices culminate in the reader experiencing a precise and detailed mental image of the poems setting and happenings.
One of the most prevalent of the literary tools used in this poem is the simile. Repeatedly throughout the poem Bishop uses the simile to give the reader a clearer picture of the situation at hand. The simile is an ideal literary tool to use when the author is trying to convey a sensory description of an object or idea. When describing the fishs physical appearance in lines 9-15 she compares the fishs skin to ancient wallpaper; this immediately gives the reader an impression of the age and outward appearance of the fish. Later in the poem when in lines 61-62 she describes the pieces of broken fishing line hanging from the fishs mouth as medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering she is using a simile to give the impression of pride and honor. This comes at a point when the narrator is developing admiration and respect for the fish and the experiences it has been through.
Throughout the poem the reader is exposed to adjectives that are more vivid than those you would expect to find in traditional speech. This is due to the fact that in poetry the author often has the need to express emotional sensations to the reader. The adjectives allow the reader to become more closely connected to the events and characters in the story by emphasizing the key points in the mental imagery that the author wishes them to see. In the poem Bishop predominately uses this tool to negatively describe objects or representations of objects. This gives the reader the feeling of sympathy for the fish because these objects seem to cause or represent pain felt by the fish. For example on lines 22-23 of the poem we experience the narrators first real sense of sympathy for the fish when they speak of his gills breathing in / the terrible oxygen. We can then relate the fish breathing oxygen more closely to a human experience such as drowning.
Much of the language in the poem does not necessarily fall within the constraints of a specific literary devise. However the language the author chooses to use is very descriptive of the situations and events that occur. From the language in the poem we draw what is quite possibly the most important part of the whole experience, the tone. From lines 5-6 we begin to hear the true tone, we get the impression that possibly the fish does not fight because he is just too old and too tired to continue to try. Later the narrator spends lines 34-42 describing the fishs eyes and comparing them to their own. This is a very powerful part of the poem because people relate looking into another person or creatures eyes as a way of connecting with that being. Anytime an author can relate a sense of connection to a subject in the story they succeed in bringing the work closer to our own experiences and therefore connecting us with the story. As the poem nears the end the narrator begins to become obsessed with their surroundings. The odd part of this is the fact that the subject, which is mostly old weathered boat parts and dirty oil stained water, does not reflect the mood as we would expect. The mood is actually that of revelry in the moment, and toward the end we are given the sense that the narrator is overwhelmed by the power of the situation. This is shown to us by the repeated use of a single word and a well placed exclamation point in lines 74-75 until everything / was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! From this sentence we get a sense that the level of excitement is rising, and the narrator is becoming caught up in the moment. In the last line of the poem the narrator makes a simple yet powerful statement; And I let the fish go. After reading the rest of the poem we can see that the simplicity of this final statement is rather deceiving. By allowing the narrator to show the fish mercy the author once again connects the audience to the story via our previous feelings of sympathy for the fish.
So as you can see there are many ways that an author can use literary devices, or even simple punctuation, to express to the reader a myriad of emotions and situations. This all leads to the conclusion that the power and use of language is as important to the story, as the story itself.