Essay on Pike by Ted Hughes
The poem “Pike” describes the fish of the same name and the poet’s feelings about them, fishing and the brutality of some little ones he had as pets, which later grew out of control, “indeed they spare nobody”. The poem seems to be about nature, “ponds” and “lily pads”, but this is not a truly pastoral poem as it is not only about the beauty and innocence of nature; the tone is dark, “deep as England” and even terrifying, “the hair frozen on my head for what might move”. The structure of the poem seems regular; each verse has four lines.
However, the line length, though at first it looks regular, is in fact irregular, ranging from five syllables to thirteen syllables. This difference adds to the uneasy tone of the poem, creating an aural sensation of something hiding within the longer lines, mirroring the way in which the “pike” lurks under the water?s surface, “logged on last year?s black leaves, watching upwards. The first two stanzas finish with a full stop, which creates the sensation of control control.
This suggests that the poet has control of the dangerous fish, “killers from the egg”, at this stage, when the “pike” he describes are “three inches long, perfect”. However, by the fifth stanza, when the poet retells his anecdote about the “pike” “we kept behind glass”, at first there are “three”, then “suddenly there were two” and “finally one”, (as it has eaten the others), and this ruthless, cannibal fish, unlike any traditional pet, moves directly into the next stanza, “with a sag belly and the grin it was born with”.
In this next stanza, the sixth, the poet warns the reader that the “pike” “spare nobody”. The fish?s brutality is echoed by the poem?s form at this point – the vicious “pike” has dominated the fish tank and now dominates the poem, refusing to follow the previous, neat form and escapes from one stanza to the next.
Later in the poem the stanzas continue to run seamlessly into each other with enjambement, “dead in the willow-herb- one jammed past its gills down the other?s gullet”, implying that the poet is losing control of the carnivorous fish and its “submarine delicacy and horror”. This is a rather long poem, with eleven stanzas, and the poet uses the extended description that runs throughout the whole poem, to emphasise the size of the “pike” “six pounds each, over two feet long” and their “old” age, thereby evoking his sense of being in awe of the fish?s “submarine delicacy and horror”.
This poem focuses on the “pike”, describing them in close detail, “green tigering the gold”, and only in the fifth person does the poet introduce the first person, “we”, (and in the eighth stanza, “I”). However, from the start, the poet?s choice of language makes clear his feelings about the fish; he shows awe through the use of positive language such as “perfect”, and “gold” and “emerald”, which have connotations of precious wealth.
He describes “pike” as “stunned by their own grandeur”, implying that he thinks the fish are self-aware and even arrogant, his use of the verb “stunned” here is almost personification, as if the poet thinks the fish can have the same self-awareness as a human. On the other hand, positive language such as “dance” and “grandeur” is juxtaposed against an underlying mood of darkness and evil, which enters the poem in its third line when the fish are presented as “killers from the egg” and “malevolent”.
Therefore in the first three stanzas, the poet?s attitude is contrasting, seeing both “delicacy and horror” in the “pike”. However, in the fourth stanza the poet admits that “the jaws? hooked clamp and fangs” are “not to be changed at this date” and this marks a turning point in the poem, with the mood changing to wholly negative, and finally, fearful, with the simile “as a vice locks” and talking of “iron” “instrument” and, explicitly, “death”.
By the ninth stanza the poet says directly that he is afraid, “I dared not cast”. He describes also “the hair frozen on my head” and the sensation of something “that rose slowly toward me, watching”, he presents this as a “dream”, but the experience conveyed to the reader is more of a nightmare. The poet?s feeling of fear is highlighted by his description of “the dark pond” coupled with the repetition of “darkness”.