The Introduction to Ted Hughes’s “Pike” can be found in “Poetry in the making” as Hughes states:”Here, in this next poem, is one my prize catches. I used to be a very keen angler for pike, as I still am when I get the chance, and I did most of my early fishing in a quite small lake, really a large pond. This pond went down to a great depth in one place. Sometimes on hot days, we would see something like a railway sleeper lying near the surface, and there certainly were huge pike in that pond. I suppose they are even bigger by now. Recently I felt like doing some pike fishing, but in circumstances where there was no chance of it, and over the days, as I remembered the extreme pleasures of that sport, bits of the following poem began to arrive. You will see by looking at the place in my memory very hard and very carefully, and by using the words that grew naturally out of the pictures and feelings. I captured not just a pike, I captured the whole pond, including the monsters I never hooked.”
The poet emphasizes the perfection of the Pike in the first stanza. The pike appears to be just perfect in dimension:”three inches long, perfect.”The whole body of the pike has green and yellow stripes across it. The killer-instinct exists right from the hatching of the egg. This violent streak is hereditary: it goes generations back: “the malevolent aged grin.”They stage a dance on the surface attracting the flies, asserting their presence. Hughes has always utilized animals as an exaggerated metaphor for the instinctual inclination of Man.
They move stunned and overcome by their own grandeur; exhibiting narcissistic tendencies in the process. The alga appears as a bed of emerald. As one looks from above the waters, their silhouette appears magnified and the length is pronounced :”a hundred feet long in their world.”The line may also signify the flamboyance of the Pike. It is fragile; and holds the enigma and secrecy of submarines.
In the ponds, they are found also below the heat of the lily pads. They can be discovered in the shadow of the flower’s stillness. Either they are attached as logs to last year’s leaves or appear to hang in a cavern of weeds.
The jaws are perfectly formed ‘clamped’ to easily prey upon their victims, and the fangs haunt since generations. There appears to be no change in the practical utility of these preying instruments. Theirs is a life subdued to its instrument-the fan and jaw-the purpose is relegated to the practicality of the situation. The kneading of the gills and the pectorals involuntarily perform their respective functions.
Fry (the young ones of fish) are kept in a glass jar, for the pike to prey on. There were three of these small fish. As these kept disappearing, the Pike seemed to get bigger and bigger.
With the pike having devoured the other fishes, it now had a sagging belly. It held the grin that it was born with. This particular grin is more pronounced now as the fish is satisfied. The truth is that they spare nobody, even their own kind as the poet talks of two pikes “six pounds each, over two feet long”. They are dead in the willows as one gets choked while swallowing up the other. One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet. The part of the pike, being eaten, projected its eye with the same firmness (iron) that was characteristic of the species, as the film of the fish shrank in death.
The pond that the poet fished in had lilies and tench that foregrounded the scene .The tench is a fresh water fish of the carp family ,that had a tenacious grip over life. Therefore, its exuberance seemed to exist and “outlast” the preexisting stones in the pond. The term ‘monastery’ refers to how the stones were ordained to live a secluded life: but the blossoming of the lilies and the liveliness of the tench had relegated their concerns.
As Hughes refers to the “depth” note the reference to the depth in the introduction to the poem above. This ’depth’ is by itself ‘legendary’ as it is emblematic of the deep-rooted heritage that England is synonymous with. This depth was ‘stilled’ or static not meant to change with ravages of time. The Pike was not only an aspect of this heritage; it was an inherent part of man’s basic nature as this violent streak is universal .The human –being also has this killer/survival instinct right when he cracks from the egg. This instinct is inborn, but the sophistication that he develops is acquired. Nevertheless, this aggression behavior remains in this subconscious.This killer instinct is a metaphor for the revolutionary instinct of England that makes its heritage what it is today.
The poet silently engaged himself in fishing. In the poem, fishing stands as a metaphor of ‘self-discovery’. The hair that had grown after his birth, was a symbol of his sophistication; as he probed his roots, it had frozen. In the darkness of the night, the poet ‘fished ‘for the slightest sign of instinct-“for what might move, what eye might move.” In contrast, to the deeper concentration of the poet, the splashes seemed conspicuous in the still of the night. The nocturnal owls seemed to be hushing up the floating woods that appeared to be floating to the poet in his partial dream. Beneath the night’s darkness another darkness was revealed (freed)-that of the poet’s.”That rose slowly towards me, watching.”This was the poet’s other self that he encountered-his darker side.
When one grasps the real meaning of the poem, one comprehends that what the poet referred to in the Introduction to the poem as “quite small lake” is really his refined self. As he reaches the phase of self discovery, he asserts that he caught all the inherent irrational impulses in him:” I captured not just a pike, I captured the whole pond, including the monsters I never hooked.”This is his “prize catch.”
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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