Study Guide

The Fish (Marianne Moore) Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Marianne Moore

Life, Consciousness, and Existence

When we talk about life-stuff, we often end up with more questions than answers. "The Fish" also asks lots of life-stuff questions but doesn't give us any big "A-ha" moments. Instead life and death appear to just get along without much fuss. "It is what it is" seems to be the prevailing tone of the poem, and what it is is one big continuous, connected cycle of life. Cue The Lion King.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. How does the speaker's tone contribute to the theme of life and existence? What does she sound like and why does she sound this way?
  2. With everything sliding "each on the other," what are we to make of life and all its forms? According to the poem, is there any order here or is just one big aquatic mess?
  3. How does Moore's syllabic verse contribute to the poem's ideas about life and existence? What's the point of having such a form without a specific meter?
  4. What do you make of the final line, "the sea grows old in it"? What does it have to do with life and existence?

Chew on This

Good news, bad news: our world, like the ocean in "The Fish," is like an ecosystem that looks orderly but doesn't necessarily provide any life-changing answers.

It's not that there aren't any answers to our life-stuff questions, it's just that the answers are so simple in "The Fish" that it's hard to notice they're even there (deep, right?).

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