Syntax in The Fish

Syntax Examples in The Fish:

The Fish 6

"ac- cident—lack of cornice,..."   (The Fish)

Moore makes us hyper-aware of language: how it sounds and how it is constructed. One example of this is in her deconstruction of “accident,” which represents the destruction of the cliff face. In our reading of these lines, we come to the realization that “accident” contains the linguistic fragment “ac-,” which rhymes with “lack.” As in much of the poem, the words become objects to be played with. The entire poem is tactile in this way. As Moore’s words create images and scenes, they also whir and click mechanically.

"of the cliff; whereupon the stars, pink rice-grains,..."   (The Fish)

Moore uses line breaks to create moments of expectation and surprise. In the line “of the cliff; whereupon the stars,” we imagine stars, in the astronomical sense, shining upon the cliff. The vast break between stanzas leaves this reading untouched. When we arrive at the image of “pink/rice-grains,” it becomes clear that the stars in question are sea stars. Yet this twist does not negate the image of starlight, for the initial meaning of “stars” receives its own poetic moment.

"the turquoise sea of bodies...."   (The Fish)

Moore uses “sea” in a peculiar way here. The subsequent line break leaves the literal meaning of the word in mind, which makes sense given the poem’s marine setting. However, the start of the next line complicates “sea,” so that it metaphorically refers to a group of bodies. Also, the rhyme in the first two lines forces us to reconsider our pronunciation of “the.” Only upon re-reading these lines can we appreciate the double pronunciation of “the” and the double meaning of “sea.”

"sun, split like spun glass,..."   (The Fish)

Moore’s remarkable wordplay becomes self-referential: “split” describes the splitting apart of the poem’s language just as it describes the sunlight.

"sun, split like spun glass,..."   (The Fish)

Moore’s use of enjambment—the splitting of a statement over multiple lines—creates a rhythmic counterpoint. “Spun” receives a stressed pronunciation, but so does “Glass” at the beginning of the next line. The pause between these two stressed words builds tension, holds it for moment, and finally releases it.

"wade..."   (The Fish)

Marianne Moore uses the title as part of the poem’s opening lines. In other words, the full statement would be “The fish wade through black jade.” This is a wonderfully disorienting choice. First, we read the title as a singular fish, and the word “wade” as a command. However, when put together, both of those readings turn out to be false.