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The Importance of Empathy in “The Fish”

In her poem “The Fish,” Elizabeth Bishop denies the negative influence of civilization on her own ability to empathize with another animate being. The title suggests that the fish is a symbol of nature, and Bishop’s description of the fish serves to emphasize the gulf between man and nature. The fish is described as being “old and wise,” with “brave eyes” that have seen “the workings of the moon.” In contrast, the speaker is described as a “child” who has yet to learn the ways of the world. The contrast between the two demonstrates Bishop’s belief that humans have become disconnected from nature due to the advancement of civilization.

Bishop goes on to describe the fish in more detail, emphasizing its otherness. The fish is said to have “rainbow scales” and a “speckled tail,” features which serve to make it more alien to the human eye. The implication is that, due to the advance of civilization, humans have become so divorced from nature that they can no longer see the beauty in its creatures. This is further emphasized by the fact that the fish is caught in a net, which symbolizes the way in which humans have trapped and captured nature.

All of this changes when the speaker sees the fish close up. Suddenly, she is able to see past its alien appearance and into its soul. She describes its eyes as being “kind” and full of “wisdom,” suggesting that she has finally been able to connect with the fish on an emotional level. This moment of empathy is significant because it demonstrates that, despite the advances of civilization, humans still have the ability to connect with nature. Bishop believed that it was important for humans to maintain this connection, as it is what allows us to empathize with other creatures and understand their perspectives.

The poem ends on a note of hope, with the speaker promising to release the fish back into the sea. This act of kindness suggests that, despite our differences, we can still find common ground with those who are different from us. In releasing the fish, the speaker is also releasing herself from the confines of civilization and reconnecting with nature. This final act reinforces Bishop’s belief that empathy is essential in our relationships with both others and nature.
In conclusion, “The Fish” is a poem about the relationship between man and nature. Bishop believes that, despite the advances of civilization, humans still have the ability to connect with nature on an emotional level. This connection is what allows us to empathize with other creatures and understand their perspectives.

FAQ

Bishop uses nature to explore the human condition by looking at how humans interact with and rely on nature. She also looks at how humans view nature and how that affects their relationship with it.

The fish in the poem is a symbol of the speaker's own life and her relationship with nature. The fish is struggling to survive in a hostile environment, just as the speaker is struggling to find her place in the world. The fish also represents the speaker's vulnerability and her need for protection from the elements.

The speaker's attitudes towards nature change over the course of the poem from curiosity and awe to fear and mistrust. This change reflects the speaker's own journey from innocence to experience, and her growing understanding of the harsh realities of life.

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