American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is one of my favorites of all time, and “The Fish” is one of my favorite poems of hers (not solely for its topic, mind you).
For my 100th post on this blog, samples of lines from “The Fish” and from her longer poem “The Moose” follow. Other great Bishop poems include, among others, “One Art” and “Filling Station.” I mentioned the latter here on Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, 2014.
Excerpts from “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1946:
He didn't fight. He hadn't fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. (lines 5-9) I thought of the course 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. (lines 27-33) 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. (lines 34-44) the turning point: . . . from his lower lip --if you could call it a lip-- grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line, . . . . Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom trailing from his aching jaw. . . . (lines 48-51, 61-64)
To take in more great descriptive details and find out what happens with the fish, see the whole poem.
Set in New Brunswick, Canada, here is an excerpt (lines 1-26) from “The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1976, thirty years after “The Fish” and three years before her passing:
From narrow provinces of fish and bread and tea, home of the long tides where the bay leaves the sea twice a day and takes the herrings long rides, where if the river enters or retreats in a wall of brown foam depends on if it meets the bay coming in, the bay not at home; where, silted red, sometimes the sun sets facing a red sea, and others, veins the flats' lavender, rich mud in burning rivulets; on red, gravelly roads, down rows of sugar maples, past clapboard farmhouses and neat, clapboard churches, bleached, ridged as clamshells, past twin silver birches, through late afternoon a bus journeys west, . . . .
When my college poetry professor first introduced us to Elizabeth Bishop, she said “The Moose” was widely agreed upon as the definitive example of her poetry. Obviously, I like it very much, too. Now that I’ve gotten you started, you have less of an excuse not to read the rest of this beautiful poem. And, yes, the travellers do encounter a moose.
A comprehensive collection of Bishop’s complete poems is available on Amazon.com.
Check out the next featured poem and poet in the series, the daffodils of Wordsworth.
And ICYMI: The start of this nature verse series consists of two posts exploring the theme of sunshine: Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1: Sun Spots, featuring four different poets’ work, and Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1a: “The Sunlight on the Garden,” with part of a poem by Louis MacNeice.