Ted Hughes is known for his use of cynicism and brutality of animal life. ‘Pike’ is no exception and depicts Pike as an animal born with the instinct to kill and destruct. He has allegorically used it to imply that every human has got such nature, which is revealed when he wants to achieve something over the other. It also serves as a reminiscence of his childhood. The poem ‘Pike’ is published in his second collection of poetry which exalted his reputation as a major poet of America.
Summary of Pike
The Pike by Ted Hughes is divided into three parts. The first part deals with his admiration for the ‘Pike’, which comes at the beginning of the poem where the poet describes the size and color of the Pike with its grandeur by nature. He then keeps on admiring the beauty and the presence of the fish in the water. He gives visual imagery of how it lives in its natural habitat. The second part is about his reminiscence of childhood where he visited the Lakh frequently and his experience of the three fish he and his friends grew at home. That experience gave him the lesson that the strong ones survive in the world whereas the weaker ones must succumb to their fate of being eaten by the healthy one. The third part discusses his respect and fear for the fish, whose eyes and malevolent grin still haunting him at night.
Analysis of Pike
The poem gives us a reference to D. H. Lawrence’s poem ‘Mosquito’. The mosquito does its work it is created for. It makes man dread, though very smaller in size. The contrast here is that ‘Mosquito’ disgust whereas Pike depicts his admiration. ‘Pike’ is a poem of forty lines which consists of ten stanzas written in quatrains. The poem can be divided into three parts:
- Part One – The poet’s admiration and description of the ‘Pike’
- Part two – Poet’s experience with Pikes’
- Part three – Poet’s Fishing experience in the Pond
Pike, three inches long, perfect
They dance on the surface among the flies.
The first stanza gives a vivid description of a perfect pike in its color, size, and appearance. The poet states that the Pike is three inches long and perfect in its all nature. It has the color combination of Green and gold. Here the poet uses the metaphor ‘tigering the gold’ for describing the color of the fish, which is also a reference to Tiger for its mightiness’ on earth. ‘Killers from the egg’ refers to its destructive nature by birth. They also have the wicked grin which another reference to its killing nature.
Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,
A hundred feet long in their world.
The phrase “stunned by their own grandeur” gives an air of importance to the Pike, as if it knows that it is something to be respected. It seems it like it is not stunned about the hundred feet long submarine in its world but about its reflection in the shadow of the submarine. The words ‘grandeur’, ‘bed of emerald’ once again indicates his admiration for the majestic appeal of the Fish.
In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads –
Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds
In the fourth stanza, he magnifies the simple act of the fish looking upward as a royalty keeping his head high while sitting on the thrown observing his subjects. He states that the fish moves around in ponds under the lily pads, which protects it from the heat while toiling in the heat themselves. Also, it hung around the bed made of the fallen leaves of last year drowned in the ponds or above amber cavern made of weeds while watching upward.
The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.
As mentioned by the poet in the first stanza they are born perfect to kill and survive, so as it grows, there comes no necessity for it to change itself. At the same time, the problem of being a Pike appears here as it has to live up to its expectation of inborn quality. Yet it is clear that it is not strong enough in its core muscles.
Three we kept behind glass,
Suddenly there were two. Finally one
Stanza five talks about the poet’s reminiscence of his childhood, where he kept three fish of different sizes: Three-inch, Four-inch, and Four and a half inch. ‘We’ does not tell us whether it is his friends or siblings, so we is assumed as his friends. They kept them in a glass jar but within a few days, there was only one left. It tells us that in this world full of violence, only the stronger one remains.
Stanzas Six and Seven
With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.
Though its film shrank in death.
These species are born to kill, so they spare nobody, even of its own kind. Here he gives another incident where he had to witness two pikes of about six pounds and Two foot long goes against each other. While fighting one enters into the mouth of the other causing death to both. The incident presents a sheer truth that vice can never beget virtue.
Stanza Eight and Nine
A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
That past nightfall I dared not cast
Stanza Eight and Nine speaks about the Pond where the poet usually goes fishing. It looks like a fine place for fishing having spread across fifty yards. It is a very old Pond with Lilies and Tench (also known as doctor fish is a fresh- and brackish-water fish of the cyprinid family found throughout Eurasia from Western Europe) has outlived the stones with which the monastery has built them. ‘Legendary depth suggests that the depth of the pond is unclear. He metaphorically compares the Pond to England to imply that both are impenetrable and known to the outsiders only through legends. Besides, it has also been a home for many Pikes which are so immense and old, provided the poet states that he has never dared fishing after nightfall. It is another see-through to his fear for Pike – the aftermath of his witnessing a Pike killing another Pike.
Stanzas Ten and Eleven
But silently cast and fished
That rose slowly towards me, watching.
In stanza ten & eleven he tells us about, how his fear of Pike grew along with him. Even now, he carries that fear. As a result, whenever he goes to that Pond for fishing, he never dared to make noise but fished silently. The following lines detail the experience of fishing at night in the pond. It is not clear if the poet has dreamt of fishing or had he trialed his fear of fishing in the pond at night. He illustrates the dreadful experience of fishing, with all his hairs frozen on his head, which reflects his fear of what could be moving beneath the water or which eyes would be watching him. Night near the pond unfolds with the owls hushing the woods, which looks like floating due to the extreme darkness. As the darkness of the night unfolds, he proposes that ‘Darkness beneath’ (the pikes) is freed. It raises keeping his eyes fixed on the poet as if it is watching his actions.
Structure of Pike
The poem is written in 44 lines divided into 11 quatrains. It doesn’t follow any particular form or rhyme scheme. The first letter of all the lines are capitalized purposefully to give the magnificent appeal to the Pike, in spite of the lines ending in the middle in many places.
Themes in Pike
‘Beauty and Brutality of Nature’, ‘Reminiscence of Childhood’, and ‘Inborn instincts’ are the major themes present in the poem Pike. Pike is beautiful by nature and at the same time it is meant to kill for its survival, which is the brutal fate of it. From growing the pikes in a glass jar and the dreadful experience of seeing a pike killing another, gives an overview of the poet’s experiences with Pike and the impact of it. The inborn killer instinct of the pike is an implication on the natural human instincts that comes with every individual even if they do not ask for it.
Metaphorical Use of England
England is used as a metaphor to describe the depth of the Pond. He indirectly implies that, like the Pond, England also has its own depth which is not known to many. It can also be considered a satire on England for keeping many people who are violent by nature and walks the city of England with killer instincts or people who are ready to grow bigger at the cost of the fellow human being. This can also be considered as hyperbole, as it is a poem of reminiscence.
About Ted Hughes
Edward J. Hughes popularly known as Ted Hughes lived between 1930 and 1998. He married Sylvia Plath in 1956, who introduced him to the world of poetry and Literature. He published his first collection of poetry The Hawk in the Rain was published in 1957, followed by Lupercal in 1960. Following Plath’s suicide in 1963, no poetry or work was published by him but years later he went on a writing spree and published volumes after volumes such as Wodwo (1967), Crow (1970), Wolfwatching (1989), and New Selected Poems, 1957–1994 (1995). In 1998 he published his ‘Birthday Letters’ which gave insight into his relationship with Plath after decades of silence. He is known for his way of dealing with the brutality of life through his allegorical poems. He is best known for his use of animal imagery.