The Fish

Marianne Moore


through black jade.

Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps

adjusting the ash-heaps;

opening and shutting itself like


injured fan.

The barnacles which encrust the side

of the wave, cannot hide

there for the submerged shafts of the


split like spun

glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness

into the crevices –

in and out, illuminating


turquoise sea

of bodies. The water drives a wedge

of iron through the iron edge

of the cliff; whereupon the stars


rice-grains, ink-

bespattered jelly-fish, crabs like green

lilies and submarine

toadstools, slide onto each other.



marks of abuse are present on this

defiant edifice—

all the physical features of



of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and

hatchet strokes, these things stand

out on it; the chasm-side is



evidence has proved that it can live

on what can not revive

its youth. The sea grows old in it.

  • Begins un-capitalized as though in the middle of a sentence. Single word, active verb w/o a subject.
  • Image of underwater stone. Metaphor most likely, w/ Black Jade as a vehicle for another stone, or dark water as suggested by “wade”.
  • Beginning of second sentence. Full sentence broken by line break. Use of repeated hyphenation. Syntax confusing b/c subject (“one”) moved to after comma. “Crow-blue” fascinating hyphenated adjective; using the color of a crow (black) to describe a shade of blue.
  • Ash-heaps: a metaphor for piles of gray sand; creates image of powdery gray heaps, since no ash underwater probably. Or maybe a reference to magma vents? Probably not.
  • Half a simile—carrying the tenor of a the mussel from line 3.
  • Next stanza beginning w/ single article to replicate form from first stanza with syntax of current sentence. Continuing simile.
  • Vehicle of simile beginning line 5. Includes personification of fan with “injury”.
  • “Encrust the side” suggests reference to a ship or at least firm structure of some sort, yet…
  • “the wave” does not meet this criteria. Barnacles can not cling to waves…creates confusion.
  • “there” referring to the waves, where the barnacles can not hide, yet cites a different reason for their inability to cling than the obvious transience “submerged shafts of the..”
  • “Sun” continuing earlier sentence through to next stanza as in pre-established pattern from earlier transition. Again, single word; again different part of speech.
  • Beautiful sonic elements: alliteration, consonance. Part of a simile, “spun/glass” as vehicle for sunbeams. Evocative!
  • “Themselves”—the beams of sunlight. Compared to another light source (spotlights)…somewhat redundant, yet not quite since focuses on the movement quality of spotlights which is in fact different from that of sunlight.
  • Use of dash against line-break: Double emphasis on break.
  • Stanza break after “illuminating” causes greater emphasis on “illuminating” esp since separated form both its subject and object.
  • Continuation of pattern; returns to use of article, still in middle of sentence.
  • Turquoise another stone allusion, although commonly referenced as a only a color. Connection to “Black Jade” line 2?
  • “of bodies” transforms “sea” into a metaphor…although for what, remains unsure. Seems like a vehicle for itself? A Sea of bodies still referring to the sea. Curious. Also, personification of water as a force capable of driving a wedge.
  • Multiple references to iron—another mineral on the theme of stones established earlier. Also, use of same comparative causes consideration of similarities between cliff (Next line) and water.
  • “Stars” used just before line break leaves ambiguous as to whether sea stars or celestial stars.
  • Continuation of pattern—an adjective, which is different. Also, “pink” establishes that the previous line refers to sea stars (most likely).
  • Rice-grains as a vehicle for the sea stars? The little suckers on them? More use of hyphenation. Also splitting “ink”; slight invocation of octopuses.
  • Ink connected to markings on jellyfish; also beginning of new simile for crabs.
  • Continuation of simile. Use of plant rather than a mineral…departure from the pattern.
  • Image of moving aquatic life completed with sentence and stanza: first time end of sentence coincides with end of stanza.
  • By same token, new stanza begins with new sentence. Also marks shift in focus of poem from underwater realm to cliff, as well as larger ideas of resilience connected to the cliff. Still follows visual pattern, thus only a single word.
  • Only second line to be a single word—highlights as a defining feature.
  • Particularly nonchalant, prose-like line, except for split over line breaks. “Abuse” diction has very specific connotations, interesting for the time period—contemporary audiences definitely would allow for the abuse of natural fixtures.
  • Use of hyphen again to isolate edifice further, highlighting connotations of independence. Edifice also connected to minerals.
  • Break after “of” allows fractional suspense and heightens impact of next section.
  • “ac-“ follows pattern but highlights damaging nature of accidents by breaking word.
  • As above, complemented by internal breakage of dash.
  • List broken via line break and grammatical construction—irregular like a damaged stone face.
  • “Hatchet strokes” cut off from rest of list. Haha. Stand at end of line, similar highlighting as “edifice”, emphasis on independence.
  • Suspense—dare I say cliff hanger—cutting sentence off directly after verb.
  • Highlighting implications of “dead” by continuing pattern of stand-alone first line. Also by end stop.
  • Ambiguous—referencing next line directly, yet might be construed as referencing death or even accidents of previous lines.
  • This counters the assertion of “dead” at the beginning of the stanza.
  • The modifier standing alone forces consideration of its terms, specifically contemplation of “what can not revive”.
  • Youth and old in the same line, but separate sentences. The shortest sentence of all. “It” somewhat ambiguous, sea personified.

Topic Sentence: Marianne Moore’s The Fish uses metaphors with specific emphasis on minerals to highlight the stone-like ageless permanence of the ecosystem formed by waves, cliff, and sea life.


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