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This is one of the first poems I ever copied down in a journal. It made me see the world differently. It made me start paying attention to and looking for the beauty in the details. It changed the way I wrote and the way I thought about the world. Read it slowly.

The Fish
by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of its mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
— the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly —
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.
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.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
— if you could call it a lip —
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels — until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
mood: working
music: Alanis Morrissette—Hand in My Pocket


Oh, darn, I was looking forward to fishsticks at the end :)

or sushi? LOL!

Wow. Just... WOW.

Just read this slowly, three times and each time it got better. Thank you.


Ooooh! I've always loved this one.

Jill ( )

wow. That's a pretty cool one. It captured me more and more as I was reading it.

Here's one for you:

“When Geometric Diagrams and Digits…”

When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing or kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
To unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.


Oh, that was COOL. Thank you for sharing that.

That is just so good and satisfying. The kind you want to re-read (slowly) often. Thanks for sharing.

The Fish

Marvellous poem. Thanks for the reminder.




This is poetry for me. A moment in time that is so normal yet so extraordinary.

Life's A Poem (


It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.

That's my favorite sentence, but it's hard to pick just one.

When I first read this poem in 1996, it inspired me to write about my own family's fishing experiences from when I was a child. I've never gotten it right, though. At least not yet. It's strange. I can see it so clearly: my father doing the fishing, proud, his back arched (or was it just his stomach poking out?), an eight-track tape of Crystal Gayle playing; and, at the end of the excursion, my mother slicing the catch open, plunging her hands inside, dropping what wasn't edible into the water.

Someday, I'll get my fishing poem right. For now, I can enjoy Oliver's fishing poem.


We had 8-tracks of Crystal Gayle too. And George Harrison and the Irish Rovers. :)

poetry thursday

great poetry selection. ohhhh - maybe i must stop fishing! when i had a fish tank in my home i could not fish. after reading this i may not be able to again either!

Sky -


this was one of the first poems we discussed when i moved from regular high school to an arts focus school. it will always bring back memories of being 14 and away from. finally in an accepting place. thanks for reminding me.
sarai of


i love this poem. i was just actually reading a collection of elizabeth bishop's - the woman can write a mean sestina.

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Feeling generous? Be my guest!

I can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

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