Simile in "The Fish"

In terms of simile, the poem follows a distinct pattern: Initially, when the speaker finds the fish somewhat repulsive, her similes are forced and dissatisfying. Toward the end of the poem, as the fish becomes more beautiful in her eyes, similes work in terms of making a comparison that will enhance her description.

- lines 10-15 - "his brown skin ... lost through age"
There are three similes in these six lines, but two of the similes are the same: The fish’s skin is compared twice to wallpaper. It is noteworthy that she compares the fish’s skin to something artificial and inanimate. The speaker seems dissatisfied with her own simile here: She repeats it and then qualifies it. Immediately after these lines, in line 17, she compares the shapes on the fish’s skin to something living (roses), but she qualifies the “full-blown roses” simile with a metaphor that compares barnacles to “fine rosettes.” It is as though she is trying to describe the fish to us by comparing it to objects we might understand, but because she finds the fish somewhat distasteful at this point in the poem, the similes aren’t quite right.

- lines 27/28 - "coarse white flesh / packed in like feathers"
As the poem progresses, the speaker looks at the fish more intently and attempts to see the beauty in it. Here she compares its flesh to feathers, which come from nature (unlike her comparison of its skin to wallpaper in lines 11 and 13, which is both a human fabrication and inanimate). The speaker’s incorporation of this simile is smoother and not as strained as earlier comparisons.

- lines 61/62 - "Like medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering"
The comparison of the five hooks and lines on the fish’s mouth to medals and ribbons gives us the sense that it is a decorated war hero. In the first similes, the fish was compared to wallpaper, something inanimate; then its flesh was compared to feathers, something from another animal; here the simile links the fish by extension to something human and more familiar. Even though it isn’t stated as such, the fish is compared to an old soldier. Because the speaker has begun to regard the fish as something potentially beautiful, she is able to conceive of it as something besides an object, much more than just a “grunting weight” (7) hanging from her line.

Questions for response
1). How does this examination of similes change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?

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

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