Elizabeth Bishop

(8 February 1911 – 6 October 1979 / Worcester, Massachusetts)

The Fish - Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

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,
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:
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-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Comments about The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop

  • (6/8/2019 10:03:00 PM)

    a touching piece of work that I will remember whenever I'm fishing (Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (5/27/2019 5:42:00 PM)

    this poem have a sweet rhyme and repetition and it remind me of my first fishing trip (Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (5/14/2019 7:11:00 PM)

    these comments have me BARKINGGG (Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (5/8/2019 10:47:00 PM)

    This poem went beyond my expectations! (Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (4/22/2019 5:31:00 PM)

    This is a nice poem. (Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (4/4/2019 11:45:00 AM)

    The poem was very well written and descriptive. (Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (3/7/2019 7:07:00 PM)

    It sucks and it will be zero stars (Report)Reply

    3 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • (2/8/2019 7:19:00 PM)

    The last line brilliantly expressed the truth of all she received from the experience. (Report)Reply

    4 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (7/12/2018 7:15:00 AM)

    thx good way to copy it (Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (5/10/2018 9:42:00 AM)

    Ya poem...WHACK Ya rhythm... WHACK Ya repetition...WHACK But me...I’m TIGHT AS FUCK (Report)Reply

    4 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • (11/10/2017 7:01:00 AM)

    This poem is boringggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg (Report)Reply

    (2/22/2018 3:29:00 PM)

    On My Momma It Is Hate Reading Stuff Like This It Make 0 Sense Like fr fr

    12 person liked.
    16 person did not like.
  • Sylvaonyema Uba (2/19/2017 11:55:00 PM)

    ...rainbow! rainbow!

    Well written and expressed piece of poem.


    15 person liked.
    11 person did not like.
  • (2/15/2017 11:41:00 PM)

    If i am correct she publishes only 100 poems but (Lordy!) the first 3 i have read take this poet's breath away. Bill Grace (Report)Reply

    8 person liked.
    8 person did not like.
  • Spock The Vegan (12/27/2015 6:19:00 PM)

    What a great poem, but a fish story, so I don't believe it happened. I may have to add her to my favorite poets list. (Report)Reply

    Spock The Vegan(5/7/2017 10:28:00 AM)

    After re-reading it, I think it happened. Not sure why I said that. Trying to be facetious?

    Kim Barney(5/7/2017)

    Personally, I DO believe it happened. I attended a poetry seminar today where this very poem was read by a professor of a local university. Everyone there was blown away by this poem. I couldn't wait to get home and boot up my computer to read it again on Poem Hunter.
    A fantastic poem.

    24 person liked.
    29 person did not like.
  • (8/18/2015 1:07:00 AM)

    .....beautifully written...I'm very pleased she let him go ★ (Report)Reply

    31 person liked.
    30 person did not like.
  • Fabrizio Frosini (7/11/2015 6:06:00 AM)

    the inextinguishable struggle of life... (Report)Reply

    43 person liked.
    25 person did not like.
  • Howard The Motivational Poet Simon (5/23/2015 4:30:00 PM)

    A fiscriptive and creative composition. (Report)Reply

    18 person liked.
    24 person did not like.
  • Brian Jani (5/17/2014 2:46:00 PM)

    Elizqbethv A beautifully written poem. Keep it up (Report)Reply

    (12/11/2017 4:28:00 AM)

    @Kim Barney, thats one of my favorite comments on here, don't know why but it is

    Kim Barney(5/7/2017 12:04:00 AM)

    She can't keep it up, Brian. She died in 1979.

    16 person liked.
    31 person did not like.
  • (11/26/2012 6:37:00 PM)

    This poem is so great that I can't put it into words. All l can say is that I'm glad that the fish was freed. (Report)Reply

    56 person liked.
    58 person did not like.
  • (4/15/2010 12:07:00 AM)

    Elizabeth Bishop is renown to write poetry about the beauty of poetry. This poem is not an exception. The fisherman merely caught a fish, yet by his imagination and creativity(which is part of poetry) he was able to imagine the fish beyond what it was, not only talking about its skin but also about its innards and portraying it as a war veteran. In fact, the ending spoke of how the fisherman even began to see the colors of the rainbow. Sad to say, the poem focuses more on poetry itself; it is unlikely the poem is speaking of morality or life and death between the fisherman and the fish.
    Great poem!

    Mohammed Asim Nehal(8/1/2016 2:04:00 PM)

    Very well said.

    106 person liked.
    73 person did not like.
Read all 30 comments »

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Read poems about / on: rainbow, fish, pink, green, water, lost, sea, sun, light, fishing, swimming, rose

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

Poem Edited: Friday, May 17, 2013

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