The poems “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop and “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke both use imagery to describe a situation. “The Fish” is about a fish being caught by a fisherman told by the narrator and shows the development of having an understanding of the fish and its nature. “Root Cellar” is about the horrible surrounding in a cellar and emphasizes the theme of survival through the senses. The imagery in both “The Fish” and “Root Cellar” is achieved by the use of simile and personification which create a vivid picture to the reader.
In Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The fish”, the narrator explains in great detail their experience of catching a fish. At the beginning of the poem the narrator doesn’t really mind the fish, they are just happy to have caught it, but as they pull it out of the water, they start to look at the fish through a different lens. For example:
“He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper.” (lines 6-13)
The narrator uses many types of figurative language to describe their observation of the fish. In the poem, the narrator uses a simile to compare the fish’s skin to wallpaper to support the image of an old but admirable fish. The narrator uses words like “battered” and “venerable” and “homely” to show us the beauty as well as the ugliness of the fish with their imagery. The narrator looks at the fish through a sympathetic view in the beginning, but as the poem progresses the narrator looks at the fish with admiration and respect. For example, “Like medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom / trailing from his aching jaw.”(lines 61-64) This symbolizes the fish as a respected war hero, the use of the word “wavering” gives an image of courage and pride. So at first, it seemed the narrator was just curious about the fish, but now it’s clear they admire it, which eventually led them to let the fish go. The use of similes in this poem emphasizes the narrator’s development of having an understanding of the fish and its nature .
In Theodore Roethke’s poem, “Root Cellar,” Roethke creates a vivid depiction of life trying to fight for survival. The poem opens with the use of imagery, on the first and second lines, Roethke states that “nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch, / bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark.” Roethke illustrates in the poem the cellar’s horrible and dark atmosphere to create for the reader the harshest environment imaginable. Roethke uses imagery to create the “dank” and “dark” setting that the reader imagines in their mind. He also compares “bulbs” to creatures that hunt. Roethke also states that “Shoots dangled and dropped, / lolling obscenely from mildewed crates, / hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.” (lines 3-5) These lines in the poem also show the use of imagery and personification. For example, “Shoots dangled and dropped” gives off a hopeless feeling, like how drooping plants signify its near death. “Long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes” is a simile and describes the darkness of some of the ropes in the cellar. The effective use of imagery also gives the reader a picture of what the cellar might look and smell like. Finally, on lines 10 and 11 Roethke ends the poem with use of personification. He states “Nothing would give up life: / even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. This describes how even lifeless things still seemed to be alive. The vivid descriptions that the imagery provides show the struggle of life in really harsh conditions.
Both Elizabeth Bishop and Theodore Roethke use vivid imagery in their poetry to create a picture that will appeal to readers. Elizabeth Bishop uses much figurative language such as imagery and personification to illustrate the poem of catching a fish. Theodore Roethke also expresses imagery and personification in the poem through the details of the horrible surroundings and showing that even under these circumstances life goes on and thrives.


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