Pike – Ted Hughes

The early parts of the poem – stanzas 1 and 2- deals with a physical description of the pike as the master of its habitat. It is built to kill, a perfect killing machine. Even, three inches, it has its killing instincts in place. Green and gold, it is perfectly camouflaged in its habitat. It can hang motionless among the weeds until it darts forward, its prey in its mouth. The second part, consisting of stanzas 3-7, is a description of the killer instincts of the fish as it moves about its green habitat. The poet’s description of the fish makes it assume huge proportions striking fear in the reader’s mind. Its malevolent nature and capacity to strike at will is further reinforced by the story of how the largest fish in the poet’s glass bowl ate the rest. It is in the last part, stanzas 8 -11 that the poet has a direct encounter with a legendary pike said to be living in an ancient pond. The pike considers the fisherman to be a puny intruder who has dared to disturb it in its kingdom. The sudden stop makes us wonder whether the mammoth pike rose from the water to attack the poet.
Main Subject
The main subject of the poem is the pike. Its green and gold body merged perfectly with the green environment where it lived. They are the masters of their habitat and even three inches, they are perfect killers. Their hunting instincts are so perfect even in a glass bowl they are capable of eating weaker fish. In the last few stanzas, the poet seems to examine whether man’s attitude is any different from that of the pike. The poet deals with the violence that is part of the animal world. The pike fits into its natural world and like man is driven to succeed.
Ted Hughes uses animals and the animal world as metaphors for the human world where violence and cruelty is commonplace. In the animal world, it is the fittest that survives like the 41/2 inch long pike that eats up its companions. Man is also driven by the urge to succeed at all cost. The pike is a master in its habitat and it is man who intrudes fuelled by greed.
Most of the time, Ted Hughes talks about small pikes but the descriptive words that he uses make the reader view the fish with fear. This is a killing machine and it is perfect. The “grin” that the poet describes makes the reader feel that the pike takes pleasure in killing its prey. However, when the pike kills, it is only following its natural instincts unlike man who chooses to be cruel.
Craftsmanship / Technique
What stands out in this poem, Pike, is the echoing language, vibrant imagery, bold metaphors and speech rhythms. An example of the clever use of metaphors is “green tigering the gold”. The pike has green and gold stripes on it and in behaviour too it resembles the tiger.

The poet moves from the description of the pike in purely physical terms to examining the inherent qualities of the creature that make it an able predator. The poem can informally be divided into three parts. The first part of stanzas 1-2 dealing with a purely physical description, 3-7 looking at its inherent qualities and also man’s relations with the animal world (the poet has kept three tiny pikes in a glass bowl) and the final three stanzas that establish the position of the pike in the larger natural context.
Ted Hughes is well known for the rich aural patterns that he creates through the use of natural cadences. See how he weaves a pen picture of the fish in its lair as it moves about silently – “silhouette
Of submarine delicacy and horror.”
The conversational tone of the poem allows the poet to use it as an effective device to heighten the impact of violence and the tension that flows through the whole poem.
The metaphors here are bold and the imagery startling. Images like “They dance on the surface among the flies., Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds, The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals, With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.” produce sharp images whereby the fish becomes tangible to readers.
Movement / Rhythm
The poet uses free verse to bring in a conversational tone. The movement comes from the use of polysyllabic words. The phrases used are spare and there are no frills or ornamentation. The Pike is a highly visual poem.
In dealing with a silent creature, the poet’s aim is to recreate an atmosphere were not many sounds are heard. He instead depends on imagery that makes the fish tangible to the readers.
Figures of Speech
Metaphors abound in this poem – the colours of the pike, the pond where it lives, its old grin, the glass bowl where the fish lived, the “sag” belly and the pond where the poet fished, lined with lilies that have outlived the cloister that planted it - and finally the monster fish that slowly rises to meet the angler.

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