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Abby Broadhurst

IB English – Pd. 6
Mr. Jameson
February 4, 2013

CSI: “Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden”

. Throughout the poem “Behaviour of Fish in an Egyptian Tea Garden,” the author, Keith

Douglas, incorporates specific symbols, word choice, and metaphor in order to develop the extended

metaphor which compares a beautiful woman in an Egyptian tea garden to an alluring white stone as well

as the men who see this woman as an object to various kinds of fish. Ultimately, this creates an aquatic

atmosphere paralleling reality. Douglas emphasizes the objectivity of the men’s attraction to the beautiful

woman by showing the development of their interactions. In the first two stanzas, Douglas states that the

woman uses “her hands white as a milky stone” and her “carmined” nails to eat a bit of ice cream. By

including the colors of her skin and nails, Douglas subtlety introduces the contrast which exists in the

poem, white symbolizing innocence and red symbolizing lust and passion. As the poem continues, it

becomes clear that it is the men who maintain lustful attitudes as they watch the woman’s sensual meal

and consider “their cruel wish for love.” The description of the woman is highly sensuous and this is

reflected by the description of the male on-lookers. It seems that they are awestruck by the woman’s

beauty, one man even “clamped to his chair.” The denotation of “clamped” indicates that it is a forced

position. In other words, the men are captured by the sight of the woman and are reluctant, or even

unable, to look away. Douglas highlights this through his repetitious inclusion of words such as “idling,”

“suspended,” and “pause.” While there are various types of men, represented by the different types of

fish, few are reluctant to actually interact with the woman, or statue, but rather prefer to observe. It is

only the “gallants” who have the courage to “nibble” and “tug” at her. These specific words are

interesting as they convey a playful tone and it is this connotation which reinforces the woman as an

object rather than an individual. The men who have gathered around her simply wish to wait and watch as

she eats the ice cream thus satisfying their sexual attentions. The men’s superior attitudes are

demonstrated when one man views “her charms through fissures.” In accordance with its denotation,
“fissures” conveys the idea that the men only see the woman in parts, thus their special fixation on her

physical appeal. Once again, this bolsters the idea of a man’s objectivity. This is reinforced in the last

stanza of the poem when the woman has finished her ice cream. All the other men leave until the woman

is left alone, “a white stone useless except to a collector.” This final metaphor is extremely important to

the poem as a whole as it reintroduces the comparison of the woman to a white stone. Douglas seems to

be trying to convey the message that many times, men look at women objectively and only view them as

an object with special features instead of a human being to be valued. The indication that only a collector

of beautiful things could use this woman, seemingly as a trophy, demonstrates that inter-gender

interactions are often based on facial value and that women are socially objectified. Douglas’ use of an

aquatic atmosphere to convey his message lends greater value to the comparison and the overarching idea

of what is generally considered important by different schools of thought and people.