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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

AT THE FISHHOUSES, by         Recitation     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

“At the Fishhouses” is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop that was first published in 1976. The poem is characterized by Bishop's ability to capture the mundane aspects of life and turn them into something beautiful and profound.

The poem begins with the speaker stating, “Although it is a cold evening, / down by one of the fishhouses / an old man sits netting, / his net, in the gloaming almost invisible, / a dark purple-brown.” The image of the old man netting fish in the cold evening is both vivid and melancholic. Bishop's use of the word “gloaming” to describe the light adds a sense of mystery to the scene.

The poem then transitions to the speaker's own experience, as she watches the old man. The speaker states, “And you see the swell of his netted shirt / as he leans against the sort of makeshift table / before him / and a little manila rope / twined around his feet.” The detail of the netted shirt and the rope twined around his feet add a sense of texture to the scene and create a sense of movement.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker states, “Only the voice of the wind / and the splash of the waves, / but the darkness is too dark / for you to see the way the waves curl.” This turn emphasizes the speaker's own experience and the fact that she is an observer in this scene. It also emphasizes the power of nature and the way that it can both conceal and reveal.

The poem concludes with the speaker stating, “And he saw how the darkness / swallowed the wavering light / of his net. / And then he drew / the net in by hand, / hand over hand, / close to his face, / and stared at the sea and the sky.” This final image is both haunting and beautiful, as it captures the old man's isolation and the vastness of the sea and sky.

Overall, Bishop's “At the Fishhouses” is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the beauty and mystery of everyday life. The poem's focus on the details of the scene and the speaker's own experience create a sense of intimacy, while the use of imagery and metaphor add depth and resonance. The poem is a testament to Bishop's skill as a poet and her ability to find beauty in even the most ordinary of moments.

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