21 March 2013

Poetry Thursday - Pike by Ted Hughes

"Pike" is the first poem by Ted Hughes I ever read - I came across it in the British Library, while working on a research project that required searching through the "guard books" in which single sheets, such as poetry broadsides, were gathered. Perhaps it was this broadside I saw -
Woodcut by Robert Birmelin; Gehenna Press, 1959; image from here
What I remembered about the poem was the tremendous sense of the presence of the pike, and of the poet's perception of it ... the way it communicated to an urban woman who knew that a pike was a kind of fish but had no idea of how or where it might be found, how large it might grow. No idea of its rapacity. The "gloom of their stillness" has lurked in my soul ever since; "they spare nobody"... the pond "as deep as England", its "pike too immense to stir". Wonderful.

(If you were teaching about this poem, this is how you might do it.) You can listen to Ted Hughes reading the poem here.


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: red 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.

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