Tone in "The Fish"

There are marked shifts in tone over the course of the poem, from the aloofness of the early lines to the near rapture of the penultimate line, “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” Such a dramatic shift leads us to understand that the poem is largely about the transformation of the speaker’s attitude.

- line 5 - "He didn’t fight"
Bishop’s poem begins with a tone of aloofness, as if the speaker is saying, “I caught a fish. No big deal.” The lines are short and clipped. Later, as the speaker gradually becomes more descriptive, the tone shifts to accommodate longer, more specific words and looser, more ornamental lines.

- lines 23/24 - "the terrible oxygen / —the frightening gills"
The speaker’s language becomes more descriptive as the poem progresses and her tone less detached. Her free use of strong adjectives like terrible and frightening contributes to our awareness of this shift.

- line 75 - "was rainbow, rainbow,w rainbow!"
The shifts in tone that occur when the speaker looks into the fish’s eyes and observes the hooks in its mouth culminate in this almost ecstatic revelation of beauty. The repetition of “rainbow” and the exclamation point that follows emphasize the speaker’s exultation and indicate the extent of her transformation.
Questions for response

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

2). Can you find other significant shifts in tone or words that set a certain tone in the poem? What do they contribute to the poem?

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