Assonance in "The Fish"

Once the reader is attuned to the frequent assonance the poem employs, it becomes easy to hear the beauty in the poem, just as the speaker sees beauty in the fish. The language throughout the poem is beautiful, and the assonance serves to highlight that beauty.

- lines 6/7 - "He hadn't fought at all./ He hung a grunting weight"
Since "The Fish" does not employ end rhyme, the ornamental features of language it does use stand out. In these two short, straightforward lines, the speaker uses assonance twice (fought/all, hung/grunting) in order to call our attention to this feature.

- line 10 - "his brown skin hung in strips"
Another example of assonance here following closely on the heels of the two examples in lines 6 and 7 (skin/strips) demonstrates the speaker's willingness to use unordinary sounding language to describe what might initially seem an ordinary experience. The use of the word "hung" in this line also echoes line 7, unifying them further.

- lines 14/15 - "shapes like full-blown roses/ stained and lost through age"
Another pair of lines that employ assonance (blown/roses, stained/age) occurs just as the speaker has described the fish as something potentially ugly; this ugliness is undercut by the sonorous beauty of assonance, made more striking in poetry that does not employ end rhyme.

- line 21 - "rags of green weed hung down"
This is the sixth line in this stanza to employ assonance, and the third one to contain the word "hung." The effect of all of these lines is to prepare us for the revelation at the end of the poem. All of the descriptions in these lines are set up to provoke disgust in the reader; the rags and weeds of this line are no exception. Yet assonance shows that the speaker takes a certain pleasure in language, and the reader is invited to share this pleasure. Eventually we are invited to see how an oil slick on the surface of a puddle of bilge can be transformed into an ecstatic rainbow vision, and this early assonance is one of the elements that initially prepares us to accept that transformation.

Questions for response

1). How does this examination of assonance change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?

2). Find other examples of assonance in the poem. What do they contribute to the work?

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