A Literary Examination of the Poem at the Fishhouses

Lynn Keller

"At the Fishhouses" commences, as a poem by Moore might,

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with a description of a picture that appears eternally suspended. The verbs in the opening

section are stative -- "the five fishhouses own steeply peaked roofs,"

"all is silver," "the big seafood tubs are totally lined," "on

the slope . . . is a historical wooden capstan," etc. But what Bishop chooses

to describe differs from what Moore would present. When Moore tells us, for example,

that "eight green bands happen to be painted on the [plumet basilisk's] tail -- as piano keys

are barred by five black stripes over the white," we realize that both lizards and

pianos have always looked like that and can continue steadily to do so down the road. But Bishop's

description insists that the picture she observes may be the product of continual changes caused

by both persons and aspect: The man's shuttle is normally "worn and polished," the

ironwork on the capstan "offers rusted," the properties have "an emerald moss

growing on their shoreward walls." Such specifics make us aware a future visitor

would find a different scene in which