The Fish – A Rhetorical Analysis

The Fish

By W.B. Yeats

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Although you hide in the ebb and flow
Of the pale tide when the moon has set,
The people of coming days will know
About the casting of my net,
And how you leaped times out of mind
Over the little silver cords,
And think that you were hard and unkind,
And blame you with many bitter words.

I consider the linchpin of Yeats’ poem to be the idea (expressed symbolically throughout the poem) of ebb and flow. In wondering what the fisherman might really be saying to the fish, there is this (my) attempt at defining for myself who or what the fish represents, as well as the identity of the writer himself.

I see the fish as life itself. The writer has taken it upon himself to represent the common life experience of humanity, but with the added insight that comes from many years of life experience, represented symbolically here by the changing tides of the ocean.

He speaks of the hopeful dreams and expectations of youth, contrasted with the nearly universal angst of a life only partially fulfilled. He hints at the need to blame circumstance for the frustration of seemingly legitimate desires, as well as the wisdom of accepting that life simply is what it is.

Here in the moment, he is making no complaint: he rests in the peace he has realized through this acceptance, yet it is also implied that he understands after he is gone, countless others will face the same internal battle.

This poem embodies his personal wish for maturate detachment to dawn for as many as might slip through this confining net of ego’s personal delusion. In his own acquiescence to the ebb and flow of life, he has won. Detachment from control has become his freedom.


The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

Yeats book
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising. In observing the development of rich and recurring images and themes over the course of his body of work, we can trace the quest of this century’s greatest poet to unite intellect and artistry in a single magnificent vision.

Revised and corrected, this edition includes Yeats’s own notes on his poetry, complemented by explanatory notes from esteemed Yeats scholar Richard J. Finneran. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats is the most comprehensive edition of one of the world’s most beloved poets available in paperback.

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