“The Fish” is an oft-anthologized and -studied work, and is usually considered one of Moore’s finest poems. It was first published in 1918 in The Egoist, then slightly revised and included in Alfred Kreymborg’s Others for 1919: An Anthology of New Verse, and then collected by H.D. in Poems (1921); with a few final alterations Moore included it in her 1935 collection.
According to Moore’s biographer Linda Leavell, the poem was inspired by Moore’s trip to Maine with her mother and brother in the summer of 1917. This trip also inspired “A Grave,” a piece often associated with “The Fish.”
The poem is forty lines in eight stanzas; the title is also the first line of the poem. The syllabic pattern in this lyric poem is one syllable in the first line of each stanza, three in the second line, nine in the third line, six in the fourth line, and eight in the fifth line. The rhyme scheme is aabbc.
Wallace Stevens wrote that the poem’s lines “move waving to and fro under water with the rhythm of sea-fans. They are lines of exquisite propriety.” He joined many of Moore’s contemporaries, such as T.S. Eliot, in lauding the poem. Contemporary critics also revere it, but there is lively debate about its meaning.