Ted Hughes’ poem Pike shows the famous fish pike in different shades of fear and scare. In two simple lines the poet paints a complete physical picture of a pike and then spends the rest of the long poem to show pike in its real nature to enrich the experience of even those readers who may never see a pike in their life. The description ‘green tigering the gold’ has become a very famous example for terseness in descriptive writing.
The poet describes the movement and nature of the pike in a very cryptic manner. They are killers from the moment they hatch. They have a ‘malevolent aged grin as they move on the surface among the flies. The reference to the flies is intended to show how puny and short-lived other life forms are in comparison with them. In their brightly coloured world ‘of submarine delicacy and horror’ they have their own grandeur and are a hundred feet long among comparatively smaller life forms. By describing the dark world where the pikes dwell, the poet is actually delving deep into the inner recesses of our mind and bringing it out for us to see. Thus, even as the poet is describing pikes, a fish which we need not fear, he is in fact fishing for the fear in us and he succeeds in his attempt through the stunningly clever deploy of images and chosen words.
The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed to this date;
A life subdued to its instrument;
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.
While the description of jaw and the fangs tell us how the fish is equipped to attack, the poets tells us that the nature of the fish grew according to its natural weapons (subdued to its instrument). The gills kneading quietly and the pectorals in similar movements remind us of a wild beast crouching and waiting to pounce on its prey.
After describing the pikes which are in the poet’s aquarium, he describes pikes in their natural settings and then comes back to describe them again in his aquarium. Here we are told of how they prey upon each other too. He had kept three in his aquarium and fed fry to them. However they killed one another and only one remained.
The scene again shifts to a pond outside where the poet saw two pikes weighing six pounds each ‘dead in the willow–herb’
One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet
The outside eye stared; as a vice locks-
The poet gives a clear and sinister description of the pond. Interestingly, the poet gives the width of the pond in terms of years and not in metres.
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them
It is clear that the poet is making a reference at the religion which has shaped his thoughts. Evil has outlasted the religion which has deteriorated and disintegrated in the modern times. At close examination we find that the poet is describing the unconscious part of our mind. The mind too has a ‘stilled legendary depth’. This surfaces much in the lines:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast
The next lines are a clear description of nightmares:
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,
Clearly, the poet is trying to tell us how fish or animals only trigger the fear which is always deep in us. Like watching tragedies on stage, we sort of enjoy the feeling of fear. This accounts for our interest in myths, monsters and dragons and whatever is evil and sinister.
last stanza is filled with sounds and images which are perfect in spelling fear in our minds.
Darkness beneath night’s darkness had free,
That rose slowly towards me, watching.
This, in fact, is the description of a nightmare that rises in our minds. The pike is only instrumental to it, not the absolute cause. The three ponds the poet describes can be seen as the three levels of our mind, those which Freud named as Id, Ego and Super Ego. They all hold fear in three different ways as the three different kinds of pike that the three different water bodies, the aquarium, the pond and the larger pond hold. Short words and terse expressions adds to the hidden fear lurking in our mind and thoughts.