Pike by Ted Hughes, Poem, Analysis, Summary, Style, Themes

In Ted Hughes' poem "Pike," the speaker delves into the eerie and mesmerizing world of the pike, a predatory fish. The poem explores the pike's menacing presence, its grandeur in its watery realm, and its ability to strike fear into other creatures. Through vivid imagery and a sense of foreboding, Hughes captures the essence of these formidable creatures lurking beneath the surface of a pond, while the speaker contemplates their ancient existence and the darkness that surrounds them.

Pike by Ted Hughes

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
They dance on the surface among the flies.

Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,
Over a bed of emerald, silhouette
Of submarine delicacy and horror.
A hundred feet long in their world.

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads-
Gloom of their stillness:
Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards.
Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds

The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed at this date:
A life subdued to its instrument;
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

Three we kept behind glass,
Jungled in weed: three inches, four,
And four and a half: fed fry to them-
Suddenly there were two. Finally one

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.
And indeed they spare nobody.
Two, six pounds each, over two feet long
High and dry and dead in the willow-herb-

One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet:
The outside eye stared: as a vice locks-
The same iron in this eye
Though its film shrank in death.

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them-

Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished
With the hair frozen on my head
For what might move, for what eye might move.
The still splashes on the dark pond,

Owls hushing the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed,
That rose slowly toward me, watching.

Critical Analysis

"Pike" by Ted Hughes is a poem that delves into the menacing and awe-inspiring nature of the predatory fish. It explores themes of power, violence, and the primal instincts inherent in the natural world. Hughes employs vivid imagery and a dark, foreboding tone to create a sense of unease and fascination.

One of the notable aspects of the poem is Hughes' ability to capture the essence of the pike, portraying it as a creature of malevolence and grandeur. The description of the pike's physical features, such as its green and gold markings and its hooked jaws with sharp fangs, evokes a sense of danger and primal strength. The pike is presented as a silent predator, lurking beneath the surface, capable of overpowering its prey with ease.

Hughes also explores the pike's dominance within its watery realm. The pike's dance on the water's surface and its stunning movement over the emerald bed highlight its own awareness of its power and beauty. The image of the pike's silhouette, resembling a submarine, adds an element of mystery and terror, underscoring its predatory nature.

The poem shifts from factual descriptions to personal anecdotes, adding depth to the exploration of the pike's nature. The story of keeping pike behind glass showcases the speaker's fascination with these creatures and the unpredictable and violent nature that lies beneath their seemingly calm exterior. The anecdote takes a dark turn when the pike turn on each other, ultimately resulting in their own demise. This serves as a reminder of the inherent brutality and survival instincts of the natural world.

The final part of the poem takes place in a pond, described as deep and timeless, inhabited by pike too immense and ancient to be disturbed. The speaker's fear is palpable as they silently cast their line, uncertain of what may move beneath the surface. The imagery of still splashes and hushing owls adds to the atmosphere of suspense and mystery.

The "Pike" is a poem that explores the primal and violent aspects of nature through the depiction of the predatory fish. Ted Hughes skillfully employs vivid imagery and a dark tone to create a sense of unease and fascination, inviting readers to contemplate the power dynamics and instinctual behaviors that exist in the natural world.

Summary

  • About pike, and the poet's feelings about them, fishing, about the brutality of some little ones he had as pets, which later grew out of control.
  • Setting: on a farm; ‘plough’, ‘mill’, ‘bare field’ Split into three parts according to story
  • Part 1 = Stanza 1 to 4 (Factual and informative)
  • Part 2 = Stanza 5 to 7 (Anecdote about pike kept behind glass)
  • Part 3 = Stanza 8 to 11 (Final story about pike in a pond)

    Stanza-wise summary of the poem "Pike" by Ted Hughes

    Stanza 1: The poem begins with a description of the pike, a small yet perfect fish. Its green and gold markings are likened to a tiger's pattern. The pike is introduced as a malevolent creature that dances on the water's surface among flies.
    Stanza 2: The pike's grandeur can leave it stunned, moving gracefully over an emerald bed. Its silhouette is described as both delicate and horrifying, resembling a submarine. In its own world, the pike can grow to be a hundred feet long.
    Stanza 3: The pike is observed in ponds, particularly under lily pads warmed by the heat. There is a sense of stillness and gloom associated with their presence. They can also be seen hanging among amber weeds, creating an eerie ambiance.
    Stanza 4: This stanza focuses on the pike's physical attributes, such as its hooked jaws, clamping mouth, and sharp fangs. These characteristics are considered unchangeable and essential to the pike's predatory lifestyle. The pike's gills and pectoral fins are depicted as kneading quietly.
    Stanza 5: The speaker shares an anecdote about keeping three pike behind glass. The pike range in size from three to four and a half inches. The speaker feeds fry (baby fish) to the pike, but suddenly there are only two left. Eventually, only one pike remains with a sagging belly and its characteristic grin.
    Stanza 6: The lone pike symbolizes its predatory nature, sparing no one. Two larger pike, each weighing six pounds and over two feet long, end up dead and stranded in willow-herb. One pike had swallowed the other, and even in death, its outside eye stares like a locked vice.
    Stanza 7: The speaker reflects on a pond they used to fish in. The pond spans fifty yards and is home to lilies and strong tench fish that have outlasted the remnants of a monastery. The pond is described as having legendary depth, as deep as England, holding pike too immense and ancient to be disturbed.
    Stanza 8: Despite their fear, the speaker silently casts their fishing line into the pond. The hair on their head stands frozen, and they hope to catch something or be observed by an unknown eye. The still splashes on the dark pond, the hushing owls in the woods, and the darkness beneath night's darkness create a haunting atmosphere.
    Stanza 9: The speaker describes the fragile and dreamlike experience of fishing in the pond. The darkness beneath night's darkness is portrayed as a freeing force. The watcher, likely a pike, rises slowly toward the speaker, watching them intently.
    Stanza 10: The owls continue to hush the woods, creating a delicate and eerie sound against the speaker's ear. The darkness beneath night's darkness has been released, and it gradually approaches the speaker, who remains in a state of alertness.
    Stanza 11: The final stanza brings the poem to a close. The darkness beneath night's darkness, embodied by the rising watcher, remains fixed on the speaker, maintaining a sense of vigilance and suspense.

    Themes of the Poem

    The poem "Pike" by Ted Hughes explores several themes, including:
  • Power and Violence: The poem delves into the predatory nature of the pike, highlighting its power and ability to inflict violence upon other creatures. The pike is portrayed as a malevolent and dominant force in its watery realm, capable of overpowering its prey.
  • Primal Instincts: The poem emphasizes the primal instincts that govern the natural world. The pike's predatory behavior, its dance on the water's surface, and its instinctual survival tactics showcase the raw and instinctive nature of animals.
  • Fascination and Fear: The speaker's fascination with the pike is evident throughout the poem. The awe-inspiring characteristics of the fish, such as its grandeur and physical attributes, captivate the speaker. However, there is also an undercurrent of fear and unease, as the pike's potential for violence and unpredictability is ever-present.
  • Timelessness and Ancientness: The poem touches upon the concept of timelessness and ancientness. The pike is depicted as an ancient creature that has existed for a long time, and the pond in the final part of the poem is described as deep and holding pike too immense and old to be disturbed. This theme adds a sense of history and continuity to the natural world.
  • Man's Relationship with Nature: The poem explores man's relationship with the natural world, particularly through the speaker's experiences with the pike. The pike kept behind glass and the act of fishing in the pond highlight the complex dynamic between humans and the wild, where fascination and fear coexist.
  • Mystery and Suspense: The poem creates an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, particularly in the final part. The uncertainty of what may move beneath the water's surface and the watcher's slow ascent towards the speaker evoke a sense of tension and intrigue.

    Stylistic Analysis

    The style of Ted Hughes' poem "Pike" is characterized by vivid imagery, metaphorical language, and a dark and foreboding tone. Hughes employs descriptive language to create vivid visual pictures of the pike and its surroundings, using metaphor and simile to draw striking comparisons. Personification adds an eerie and menacing quality to the pike's presence. Alliteration enhances the musicality and rhythm of the poem, while enjambment creates a flowing and uninterrupted reading experience. The overall tone of the poem is dark and mysterious, evoking a sense of awe and unease. Through his skillful use of these stylistic elements, Hughes brings the predatory nature of the pike to life and immerses the reader in its captivating yet unsettling world.

    Language

  • Conventional tone and simple language, very literal
  • Semantic field of evil, 'killers', 'malevolent' and 'horror'
  • Juxtaposition, ‘delicacy and horror’ & ‘lilies and muscular tench’
  • Oxymoron, ‘still splashes’
  • Repetition,
  • Repetition of ‘immense’: ‘too immense to stir, so immense and old’
  • Repetition of ‘eye’ – watching: ‘outside eye stared’, ‘in this eye’, ‘for what eye’
  • Hyperbole, ‘as deep as England’, ‘fifty years across’

    Structure

  • Dramatic pause, ‘there were two. Finally one’
  • Enjambment, ‘muscular tench Had outlasted’, ‘old That past nightfall’

    Sound devices

  • No regular rhyme scheme
  • Strong alliteration ‘g’ describing pike: ‘green tigering the gold’
  • Weak sibilance suggesting subtlety: ‘silhouette of submarine’

    Attitudes/feelings

  • Fear of the pike: ‘killers from the egg’, ‘malevolent … grin’, ‘I dared not cast’
  • Obsession with the creature: ‘kept behind glass’, ‘green tigering the gold’
  • Admires the pike’s power: ‘iron in this eye’, ‘two feet long’, ‘immense’
    Post Image Art

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