Pike by Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes makes his passion for angling very evident in the poem. The poem can be divided into three distinct parts (1) the description of the fish (2) the description of its natural habitat (3) its predatory and cannibalistic nature.
1) The poet opens with a description of the fish. He displays his knowledge of the species and admiration for it with specific details such as ‘three inches’ and calling the fish ‘perfect’.
2) Hughes goes on to express his appreciation by creating visual imagery mentioning colours. Instead of mentioning green and gold stripes he’s uses the word ‘tigering’, which also hints at the predatory nature of the species.
3) The poet shares the fact that they are born killers and have features such as a natural grin which complements the ‘killer’ instinct. He uses the word ‘malevolent’, which hints at the associated wickedness.
4) He describes the fish moving along the surface of the waterbody it inhabits, in perfect harmony with the flies above the surface.
5) Ted Hughes also describes how the species moves around in the water as if stunned or shocked by its own presence. The word grandeur once again indicates his admiration.
6) He describes the bed of the pond or lake that is their natural habitat as a bed of emerald. Emerald being a precious stone and of a deep green colour, complements his love for the species.
7) He talks about the bed of the water-body looking like a shadow of horror that is interestingly also the source of food for the marine life. The horror he talks about relates to the presence of the pike.
8) Once again with the use of a number ‘hundred feet long’, Hughes displays his knowledge and appreciation of the species and its world.
9) He talks about ponds and water lily pads that form the natural habitat of the pike. The poet shares the fact that the species likes to absorb the warmth of the leaves that are exposed to the sunlight.
10) He once again talks of the darkness and horror they bring to the habitat, even when they are still, with the use of the word ‘gloom’.
11) He talks about the fish latched onto dead leaves looking upwards; thus describing a typical predator in search of prey.
12) Hughes says that other commonly inhabited submarine structures are the archways or cave-formations generated by the waterweeds.
13) Hughes describes the fish as having jaws that could devour anything that comes in its path. He uses the word ‘clamp’ to describe how the fish locks its prey and the word ‘fangs’ which is usually associated with the venom and fatality that comes to mind when one imagines a serpent.
14) Hughes says that the species has evolved to a form that is not likely to be changed in the near future.
15) He refers to the pike and its predatory nature as a life-form that has evolved beyond change and irreparable consequences.
16) In contrast, Hughes says that if one were to observe the pike without knowing its nature, the fish would appear as harmless as any other species, in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
17) Hughes shares an experience he had with the species. He talks about a time when he kept three pike in a tank.
18) He describes the setting he created in the tank, using natural weed.
19) Once again he shares his in-depth knowledge of the species by describing the exact size, through the use of numbers. Hughes mentions that the fish were fed smaller fish in the tank.
20) He brings on the horror of their cannibalistic nature, once again with the use of numbers, mentioning how he noticed the ‘three’ fish being reduced to ‘two’ and ‘finally one’.
21) Hughes describes the bulging belly and its wicked smile (grin), two features that naturally complement the species’ predatory nature.
22) The poet mentions that the fish is known to spare no other life-form in its natural habitat.
23) Once again the poet uses numbers to describe ‘two’ pike that he noticed. He describes them as ‘six pounds’ in weight and over ‘two feet’ in length.
24) He remembers noticing them in the dead willow.
25) On close examination, Hughes shares how he noticed one pike being devoured by the other.
26) Unsure on what was happening, the poet looked closely and noticed the eye of one fish staring with a blank look, as if caught in a vice.
27) He noticed a similar look in the eye of the other fish too.
28) However, on close examination, he noticed that the eye of one of the fish started to contract and shut in death.
29) Hughes goes on to share a very personnel experience that has had a profound impact on him. He talks about a pond that he used to regularly fish at for a very long period of time.
30) The poet describes the water-body as the abode of water lilies.
31) He describes this water body, which is the home of the pike, as a very old biome that has been in existence for a long time.
32) Hughes mentions that the monks at the monastery that had created this pond and the monastery itself do not exist anymore. Hughes hints at the ageless appeal and existence of the fish.
33) He talks about the depth of the pond being immeasurable and legendary like the pike.
34) He makes a very unusual but extremely significant comparison with a simile, comparing the depth of the pond to the agelessness of England.
35) Hughes refers to the pike in this pond as being as old as the natural surrounding, and huge in its own world.
36) He also shares the fact that the presence of the pike in the water and the darkness of the night instilled a sense of fear in him as he cast bait one night.
37) Hughes describes how he went beyond reason and silently angled for the fish.
38) He describes the atmosphere surrounding the pond as cold and dark, mentioning the hair frozen on his head.
39) Hughes remembers being filled with a sense of fear and mystery as he imagined the pike silently staring at him from beneath the lurking waters. He felt that he was being watched.
40) He remembers how every single disturbance in the water seemed to remind him of the predatory fish that lived within.
41) The poet remembers vivid detail like the faint sounds made by the owls and brilliantly transfers the fluidity of the water to the woods beyond.
42) He remembers the sounds and sights very clearly and says that he re-lives the moment every time he thinks of it.
43) Hughes believes that in the depth of night, the darkness sets the predator free.
44) He believes that even as he sat there to angle for the fish, he was being watched by the pike.