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The Fish, Explication


Mr. Blanco

Explication of Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem, “The Fish”

Assignment:  Write an explication of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Fish.” 

A good explication makes clear to a reader what may have been unclear before he or she reads the explication.  An explication aids in the understanding of a poem; it unfolds, elucidates, or makes the meaning of a poem clear.  It is “a reading” of the poem, that is an interpretation of a poem based on the words that the writer uses in the poem.  The reader (in this case, the writer of the explication) writes her or his interpretation of the poem, bringing to the interpretation subtle nuances that someone else might miss.  However, an explication should not be so idiosyncratic or “odd” that a reader might consider the interpretation absurd.  Base your explication on text, structure, and logic.

Formal requirements of this assignment:  Six paragraphs, with at least 9 sentences per paragraph.  It must be typed, double-spaced, with the student information in MLA format.

Below are some resources that may help you complete this assignment.


Below is a link to the complete text of the poem:

Below is a youtube “audio” of Elizabeth Bishop reading “The Fish”:

Short Biography of Elizabeth Bishop:

 Below is a link to an analysis of “The Fish”

 Below is a link to a psychoanalytic reading of the poem:

Additional Information About the Assignment

After an introduction to poetry and after examining several poems, the explication essay assignment will be introduced.  Students will be emailed the assignment (see Addendum 1), which includes requirements and resources for writing an explication.  The entire class will receive the following homework assignment to prepare for using the Jigsaw method of cooperative learning:  “In your own handwriting, copy the entire text of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘The Fish.’    Write the definitions of any words you do not know.  Also, write down any words that suggest the attitude of the speaker in the poem toward its subject matter (the actual fish – a Goliath Grouper – formerly known as a jewfish). “ 

            In the next class session, students will be placed in six groups, with 4 – 5 students in each group, depending on the size of the class.  Each group will be given a copy of a section of the poem “The Fish” for which they are responsible for explicating completely and connecting it to other parts of the poem.    The groups will self-select.

            Each student within each group will be responsible for fully explicating at least one line of the poem and producing two or three sentences that fully explain the student’s individual section.  Each student will post his or her response to a class blog.  The recorder for each group will compile the individual responses and write a paragraph with the sentences from each individual in the group.  The group paragraphs will be posted to the class blog.  Each group will then take the material that the other groups produced and write a complete 6-paragraph explication essay of the poem.  The six essays will be posted to the class blog, where every individual student will be required to write a comment about each essay.

            The final step of the teaching method is that each student will gather the material on the class blog and write and submit his or her individual explication essay for a grade by me.  Each essay will also be evaluated by each student in class using the grid developed for this project.

University of North Carolina’s explanation of how to write an explication:


Useful advice on explication from Northern Kentucky University


More useful advice and links from Duke University:



  1. Bianca Piedra says:

    The poet is thinking deeply about the fish, its pain, suffering, and exhaustion of always trying to get away. In a way making a connection, or empathising with the fish. By saying she is admiring his sullen face she is producing some type of respect for its gloomy face and hook filled mouth


  2. Lidya R says:

    The fish had taken all the space revolved around with nowhere to move. Like if someone had drawn the fish with brown pattern strips. After decades and decades of life the patterns blended into dark brown wallpaper.


  3. Marina V says:

    Bishop compares homely and old fish’ skin pattern with ” full blown roses” which are usually representing beauty. “Stained and lost through age” and “speckled with barnacles” reminds us again of how old the fish is ( it has to be in a water for a long time for barnacles to grow). Another mix of ugliness and beauty author using to describe the fish: “fine rosettes of lime” refers to barnacles which are shaped like yellowish (lime) color rosettes. Poet seeing the fish as an old wise old man, maybe a soldier.


  4. Lisa Thomas says:

    As she pulled the fish out of the water with nylon strings and held him beside the boat, she was
    finally able to get a full glance of its entire body.
    It was at that special moment in time when she realized, that she and the fish had something in
    common; they both endeavored struggles in their lives, survived battles and gained victory.
    Once she envisioned the positive prospects of life, she decided to indulge herself by releasing
    the miraculous creature back to his wild to perhaps share some of his victorious tales to his
    minnows without ever having to fight again!


  5. Adrian Gasca says:

    By looking into his eyes she is trying to find the gateway to his soul.also the fish was scared at first when elizabeth bishop looked into his eyes and their was a sudden connection with each other.that the fish eyes where suddenly the fish looked at me i saw a sparked in his eyes.


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