The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop Notes

The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop [1911-1979]

Relevant Background

Elizabeth Bishop was born at Worcester, Massachusetts in America.
Her father died from disease in the year she was born. After mental illness, Bishop's mother was kept in hospital. Bishop never saw her mother from the age of five.
Bishop's aunts looked after her until she was seven. Then her wealthy grandparents took care of her.
She attended two different boarding schools. Then she went to university at Vassar College.
Bishop didn’t have a normal family life. This affected Bishop badly during her childhood.
Bishop’s health suffered because she often had to move house. She had asthma attacks.
She had personal battles. As an adult, she often had a problem with alcohol. She often got depressed and needed treatment.
Bishop remembers these battles in her poem ‘The Fish’. She was able to see the point of view of the old fish because both of them had faced battles in their lives.
Bishop got her degree in 1934. Afterwards, Bishop spent time travelling to France, Spain, North Africa, Ireland, and Italy. She was trying to find an identity for herself.
She then settled in Florida for four years. Bishop based the poem The Fish on an incident that happened in Florida in 1938.
Later she lived for sixteen years in Brazil.
Her poetry describes her travels. Bishop liked to describe the scenery which surrounded her. Bishop's poetry has a lot of physical description.
Her images are precise and true to life.
Bishop’s poetry shows a quick sense of humour.


This seventy-six-line poem is an account of a fishing trip and how it affected Bishop.
This is a memory poem.
Bishop remembers catching and letting go a large fish. During the time she held on to the fish, Bishop formed a relationship in her mind with the fish. The fish did not show any awareness of Bishop.
The poem is set in the sea off Florida.
Clearly, Bishop is not an expert at fishing. Her boat was rented.

In the first four lines,...