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Centuries ago the human beings got into their heads that they are the lords of creation, separating themselves from nature, taking pains to master its forces and breaking its laws. It seems that the mankind has forgotten that regardless it remains an integral part of nature and can not be divided from it. Elizabeth Bishop raises the question of the relationship between the human and the animal in her poem The Fish. In spite of the fish being so silent and emotionless, Bishop denies the negative influence of civilization on her own ability to empathize with another animate being, fish or whatever else, and to realize its feelings.
Most of the people consider the fish to be a silent, emotionless and silly creature. But it only means that they never tried to observe it more carefully or to admit even the thought that it can have its own feelings, can be hurt and understands much more that it can seem. I know it for sure that the fish can get attached to other creatures and even feels depressed being separated from them. I had a golden carp who became my true friend. I took care about it for a rather long time, even talked to it and it always listened to me carefully, though it was unable to answer me or to give an advice my fish was a good listener and was looking at me attentively with its small eyes. I wondered if my carp could hear me and understand the meaning of my words, but it listened so carefully and its eyes were so piercing that I believed in it at some moments. Once I left my friend for two weeks or so when I went to my grandparents during my summer holidays. My Mum said to me that my Goldie was terribly missing me, spent its time lying at the bottom of the aquarium, rejected to eat the fodder that Mum was feeding it with. I even returned home sooner that previously planned. When I entered the room the fish roused itself and swam up to the glass of the aquarium. It was a meeting of two good friends and I think I was lucky to have this experience and realize my entity with nature.
That is why Bishop’s ability to get into the fish’s skin impressed me so greatly. “The poet ‘takes the fish into herself’, she argues ‘through the force of her scrutiny and her attempt at empathy’” (Ellis 76). Not everyone can look into the fish’s eyes and see in them something that conveys a meaning, but Bishop, being sensitive and watchful as all poets managed to do it. The poet compares the eyes of a fish to her own eyes, emphasizing that she considers herself equal to this animate creature:
“I looked into his eyes/ which were far larger than mine/ but shallower, and yellowed,/ the irises backed and packed“(Kennedy 746). The poet, as well as I, admits the thought that the fish realizes the things happening and waits for reaction from its side: “They shifted a little, but not/ to return my stare” (Kennedy 746). Bishop is looking for the signs of the emotions in the fish eyes and behavior intentionally. At some moments she becomes even too attentive and tries to get inside of the fish, to analyze not only the outer reactions but even the entrails of the fish. “Bishop borrows from the scientific capacity to see more through a magnifying, and even x-ray, lens than the naked eye can see alone”(Cain 67). “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” (Kennedy 746). It is an extraordinary way to describe a fish that is still alive and only half out of water. But these lines made me feel that the poet examines the fish scientifically, considering it a representative of its species, as well as the fisherman, sitting in the boat just represents another species, one of numerous species of this planet.
It is amazing, that so many different associations occurred to the narrator in these short moments. Being busy with her scrutiny, Bishop notices every slightest detail and manages to integrate it into the complex image of the fish as an organism from one side and an animate creature, capable of thinking and feeling from another. The poet compares the skin of a fish to the “ancient wallpaper” (Kennedy, 746). Projecting from the rented boat home, where she feels so comfortable and free at ease and drawing the parallel with the poor fish’s home that is situated in the water and now is inaccessible for it, as it stays half out of water, the author realizes that the strongest desire of the fish is to be back home. At the same time the epithet “ancient” emphasizes the ancient origin of the fish species that, perhaps, existed before the first Primates. The woman felt that she has no right to hurt another living being and to break the chain killing a representative of the species. But after finishing observing the fish and realizing its hurt feelings, the poet recollects suddenly that the fish can not breathe out of water. “While his gills were breathing in/ the terrible oxygen/ –the frightening gills” (Kennedy 746). This theme was especially important for Bishop, as she was asthmatic and knew what it means to be gasped for breath. At this point one more time the woman can understand the feeling of the fish well enough, the problem is very familiar to her.
I concur with the author entirely that the civilized people must live in harmony with other species and elements of nature. The poem The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop reminded me that other animate creatures are able of feelings and have the right to live their lives on this planet.
Cain, William. Studies in Major Literary Authors Outstanding Dissetations. Routledge, 2002: 108.
Ellis, Jonathan. Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop. Ashgate Publishing, 2006: 195.
Kennedy, Joseph, Gioia Dana. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Pearson Longman, 2006: 2368.