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The Fish

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

Lines 1-6 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat

  • This is a characteristically straightforward start for Bishop. Right away we know the speaker is fishing and that she (or he) has just caught a giant fish.
  • So we know the setting – on a body of water in a boat.
  • We also can make an immediate connection between the title and the first line. No curveballs so far.

Lines 3-4

half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.

  • So the catch is obviously fresh – the fish is still partly in the water and the hook hasn't yet been removed from his mouth.
  • This is also our first introduction to the real physicality of the act of fishing. It's kind of brutal, right? A hook? Ouch.
  • Bishop wants us to really zoom in on the moment early in the poem.
  • Notice that she writes "my" hook in "his" mouth, creating an interesting relationship between fish and fisher. It's not "a" hook in "its" mouth, it's much more personal than that.

Lines 5-6

He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.

  • Bishop is being super-straight up. Check out line 5. It's almost sad on its own there, and certainly noticeable. It might be significant later on.
  • Line 6 really emphasizes line 5. It's almost as if the speaker is surprised.
  • Have you ever gone fishing? Even pretty small fish put up a mean fight. Here the speaker has this tremendous fish that has put up no fight at all.
  • Here is the first instance (but not the last in this poem) of one of Bishop's stylistic moves: the self-correction or adjustment. She'll say something like, "the leaves were green" then alter it in the next line with something like, "the trees were olive green."
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