Analysis of the Poem Pike by Ted Hughes
‘Pike‘ appears in the second book entitled Lupercal, published by Hughes in 1960. It treats as in several other poems the impact of the staring, accusing eye, on the victim. An angler is pictured seated by a pond near a monastery He casts his fishing rod calmly.
A pike is a voracious fish found in fresh water. It has a sharp snout. It has long jaws, strong teeth and elongated body. The poet comes across a young pike and describes it as three inches long giving the appearance of a green and gold combination in stripes, like a tiger. It has the killing instinct right from the time it appears in this world. It has a horrid look which the poet compares to a malicious old grin. The swimming pikes look as though they are dancing on the surface among the flies flying there.
Sometimes they move like a submarine under the emerald green water. They exhibit a delicacy in their beauty and also the horror of a hidden submarine of the enemy. The long procession of this fish seems to be a hundred feet long and the silhouette, a shadow outline filled in with a black shade, causes the horror. The poet observes that the pikes appear to have been captivated by their own grandeur.
The pikes in the ponds rest under pads formed by the leaves of lilies that have been affected by the heat. They lie still and inert spreading gloom. Sometimes they are found facing upwards on black leaves that are almost a year old. They also appear hanging on a collection of weeds that are in the shape of a cave. The hooked clamp of the jaws and the sharp fangs are not likely to undergo any change now. The gills and the chest fins of the calm pikes move smoothly.
They put three of them in a glass case amidst a labyrinth of weeds. The pikes started growing longer and longer from two to three inches, and from three to four. They fed them swarms of young fishes just spawned Suddenly there were only two of them in the fish tub. Finally there was just one alive, developed to its full, with a sag belly and a malicious grin. The voracious pikes do not excuse even the members of their own species. The two dead pikes had grown two feet long and weighed six pounds each. Their bodies lay stranded in the willow-herb. They must have fought between themselves because one pike was jammed inside the other’s food pipe. The eye that was visible seemed to stare maliciously. The stony stare was iron-like in hardness even though the film in the eye had shrunk a little because of death.
The poet went fishing to a large pond that was about fifty yards in breadth. The lilies, and the fresh water fish, Tench, had lived there with the pike, much longer than those who planted them three years ago. The pike and tench lasted much longer than the last stone that crumbled from the building, the monastery. This ancient quality gave a calmness and depth, a dignity that was akin to the depth of an old culture, like that of England. The pond contained very large pikes and they were so forbidding and frightening that he did not have the courage to catch them after dark.
However, he silently cast his fishing rod and his hair almost froze on his head because of fear, the fear caused by the staring eyes of the pike. In the stillness of the dark evening, he could hear the fish splashing the water. The owls hooted and there was the sound of moving nature in the woods but he heard these sounds very faintly. The night was dark and the fish came as an undercurrent to the dream of the night. The poet felt that the pike was rising up slowly towards him with its intimidating eyes.
‘… for what eye might move’ gives the clue to the staring eye. The final stanzas of the poem suggest the rule of possession, power and conflict.
“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 towards me, watching”
At the end of the poem we feel that the external world fades away, ‘Trail on my ear against the dream.’ The reader realizes that the differentiation between the subject and the object, i.e. the angler and the pike, or the poem and the reader, is of little relevance. The disturbance experienced by the poet and the reader in turn bear the enormity of an earthquake that renders the common needs of daily life a superficial reality.