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Ted Hughes
The poem is based on his childhood. As a child he often visited the lake (presumably so
that his father can go shing), of which there lived a huge pike in the deep part of the pond.
It is the memory of such a place that acts as a foundation on which this poem was based
upon. This poem is amazing in the sense that the implication of the poem is both physical
and allegorical. The pond could represent the conscious mind of Hughes himself. The
deeper area could represent the subconscious, which is where the true monsters live, as
Hughes often said.
The poem follows the pattern of many of Hughes work. It is usually marked by practical
knowledge and precise description of the creature described, such as their bodies and how
they move, as well as their behaviour. Hughes also tended to have a very big obsession
with big and erce creatures and often written poems including the The Juguar in the animal
world and the Thistles of the plant world. He always tended to depict these creatures in the
most warlike and vicious state.
Signicant poetic devices and their signicance (eg: Metaphors,
symbols, rhyme scheme, form, imagery, repetition etc)
Note how the beginning of every sentence starts with a capital letter, even though
there are sometimes no form of punctuation to dictate it so.
This can be used as a way to stroke the ego of the pike, as if by saying that
we should always make a grand sentence starter for the Pike!, as if we are
throwing a red carpet down for the Pike to walk on
When we are making descriptions of it which in the perspective of the poet,
may be his thoughts exactly.
Word-based analysis
Stanza 1
Pike, three inches long, perfect
The fact that he is using a baby pike as the rst imagery of the poem represents the
fact that they are already beautiful from birth and there is nothing more that they
needed to do in their life to improve as they are already at the top.
He is also addressing the innocence of the Pike at birth, putting the sh in rather
adorable light to the reader.
"Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold"
The phrase green tigering the gold basically has the meaning of the pike being
green with the gold that we see in a tiger. This has two forms of interpretation
The use of the word tigering relates to, of course, the tiger that we nd on
land, which is sometimes considered to be one of the most powerful land
creatures to ever walk this Earth.
Its cat-like bone structure is perfect for hunting in its particular
This could thus be a reference to how the pike is perfectly built for killing
in water
Similar to how the tiger is perfectly built for hunting on land. He could
also make a reference to its ferocity and dominance that we see in the
tiger, implying that he sees it in the pike as well.
The use of the word gold, especially the shade of gold that we often see on the
tiger, implies royalty, putting the pike in a rather majestic and elegant light.
Killer from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
The poet here is exemplifying the fact that the pike is already structured to become
the perfect killer since birth.
It already is born with the instincts to survive and the techniques to hunt, portraying
the Pike as the ultimate king of the sea in terms of dominance,
Commanding respect.
Furthermore it creates makes the pike look like a sacred animal, as if hand-crafted by
God to do amazing things.
They dance on the surface among the ies.
The main diet of the Pike at birth is the ies.
Therefore the use of the word dance is a metaphor used to describe the hunt.
However the poet is implying the fact that the hunting is so easy to them due
to their ingrained thinking and specialised body structure that they make it
seems as seamless as if they were doing a dance among the ies rather than
hunting them.
Stanza 2
Or move, stunned by their own grandeur
The phrase stunned by their own grandeur is used to create an air of arrogance
around the Pike, as if it knows that it is something to be respected.
This reinforces the point about the poet calling the Pike perfect as even the
Pike is aware of that.
Furthermore the use of the word grandeur once again relates the Pike to
royalty or a higher-class noblemen, commanding even more respect.
"Over a bed of emerald, silhouette"
Take note that Emerald is considered very rare and valuable in human terms and the
fact that the emerald is found on the seabed of the pond represents the fact that the
Pike guards over it, as if the Pike was the king, the pond its kingdom or castle, and
the bed of Emeralds, its wealth or treasury.
"Of submarine delicacy and horror."
Note the juxtaposition in the two words delicacy and horror as well as the
metaphor when we describe the pike as a submarine.
The two juxtaposing words represent the pike itself.
It is delicate and beautiful at times (perhaps at birth), yet horrifying and
terrifying when hunting.
This is favorable in both contexts, as you want to be horrifying and
terrifying when you are hunting, yet favourable in the eyes of the poet
when the creature is beautiful when young as it helps bring his point
Meaning that the pike gets to enjoy the best of both worlds. This
is something that not many people get to do, making the pike look
privileged, as the poet likes to make the pike look.
"A hundred feet long in their world.
This could be a metaphor for their dominance, for although small relative to the pond,
They are huge in arrogance and their aura can be sensed (and feared) for as much
as a hundred feet accentuating once again the arrogance of the Pike, as well as its
right to be by the poet.
Stanza 3
In ponds, under the heat-stuck lily pads-
In this point of view, the pike swims below the heat-stuck lily pads. This can refer
once again to royalty as we nd the lily pads sacricing itself and taking in the heat,
just so that the Pike can be cool directly below it.
"Gloom of their stillness;"
This is similar to the works of Hunting Snake by Judith Wright, who implies that the
snake (and in this case, the pike as well) are both creatures of mystery, and that we
tend to think of them as something different than they truly are creatures of beauty.
Furthermore the fact that Hughes also does the same gives the pike a calm and
collected attitude; as if everything that is happening in the pond is planned by the
Pike and that everything planned is going smoothly.
"Logged on last years black leaves, watching upwards"
This can exemplify the fact that the pike even holds dominance over the areas that it
cant reach (ie above the surface of the water) as it keeps close watch every day,
ensuring that no one dares step even close to its territory.
The black leaves could refer to the lily pads which have died, sacricing themselves
for the sake of the pike.
The fact that the pike looks through the dead black leaves without acknowledging its
presence once again demonstrates its arrogance, as if it deserves to have plants die
for it.
"Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds"
Once again there is this concept of plants sacricing themselves to provide shelter or
anything that the Pike might request. In this case, as already said before, shelter.
There is also that issue of the Pike being mysterious, once again giving it a calm and
collected attitude.
This could also be applicable when it is in its environment, hunting for prey that
might pass by. It is collected and calm, and not worried that the prey might get
away, because itll always get the prey in the end.
Stanza 4
"The jaws hooked clamp and fangs"
Structure once again being perfect for hunting.
"Not to be changed at this date;
Nothing more needs to be improved since birth, it was already born perfect.
"A life subdued to its instrument;"
It is perhaps here that he issues the problems of being a pike.
That perhaps the Pike is perfectly built for killing, and thus has to live up to its
That all its life it is honing its skills in hunting just to be able to full the expectations
of everybody.
It is here that is life is subdued (weakened) what is the point in life if you are built do
something that you are not passionate about? Or something that you dont really
want to do?
It is here that the poet is implying that the Pike may reect on him instead, perhaps
relating it to an incident in his childhood as he starts to remember his past when he
recalls this pond as well as the pike.
This is similar to the poem found in the anthology The Cockroach when the poet
nds that the animal that he describing, the cockroach, completely reect the actions
of his life, as well as the life of many that walk on this earth. Could the pike also be
reecting on us as well?
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals
This gives us a view of the mechanical makings of the Pike.
Perhaps the poet is exaggerating these features to give us a sense of its raw
power as well as its efciency and consistency due to the use of the verb and
adverb kneading quietly.
Note as well the random use of a named muscle that is a feature of a core muscle,
one of the most important muscles in your body.
The fact that it is featured indicate how much power that the pike has,
Especially in the ones where the strength of the muscles is required most (core
Stanza 5
Three we kept behind glass,
Jungled in weed: three inches, four,
And four and a half: fed fry to them
Suddenly there were two, nally one
The scene described dictates the experience that the poet had of keeping such
creatures as pets.
Take note that the fact that they were so small although the poet was so proud
illustrates how hard it actually is to capture a pike that even capturing one this small
was already considered an achievement.
Also note how they suddenly disappeared. This indicates that the other two were
killed off by the strongest one.
This expresses their arrogance once again as they try to remain on top and the
best and the most dominant
Despite the fact that they are the ones being help mercy to the poet, who
feeds fry to them and kept them behind glass
Jungled in weed,
Mystery once again. Repeated theme through out the poem
Stanza 6 and 7
With a sag belly and a 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 others gullet:
The outside eye stared: as a vice locks -
The same iron in this eye
Though its lm shrank in death
This is one of the poets experience when he went to the lake with his father to go
shing one day.
One pike swam into the mouth of another one, where both of them suffocated
and died.
This could represent the dangers of arrogance, contrary to what the poet was
implying as he mentioned arrogance a countless number of times and painted
it in a positive light.
In this case, the pike could represent him as his recollection could have
triggered a memory of his past where he had faced a similar issue, only to nd
both parties lose due to arrogance.
However, there is still a level of respect for the way that these two Pike died, they
were pikes after all. The best creatures to ever walk this earth in the eyes of the poet.
Anyway the phrase vice locks- the same iron in this eye indicates a sense of
masculinity as we see tools mentioned and of all tools, locks which represent
strength as well,
Indicating the poet feels like the two pikes died in the most masculine way
possible, thus deserving some respect. This is another theme which is
repeated throughout the poem
Stanza 8 and 9
A pond I shed, fty years across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlased 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
These two stanzas represent the bittersweet memories that the poet had in
connection with this pond, and how he has lived with it and saw it changed
throughout the ages.
The use of the metaphor in the phrase fty years across is used both as a time and
distance measure, used to say that it is big enough for one to take fty years in order
to cover the whole area, shing wise.
This is a good way for one to create a sense of meaning to a statistical
measurement, not only indicating that the poet possess knowledge of the area, but
how the poet came to obtain the knowledge in this case through experience.
The use of the word monastery was specially used by the poet so as to create the
pond as having a sacred/religious touch to it,
As if it was the haven for pikes.
It is also creates an innocent image to the pond,
As well as the poet when he visited that area regularly as a child.
Also note the hyperbole when the poet said that the pond was as deep as
Indicating that the poet has been at the same pond since he was a young boy,
bringing back bittersweet memories in the poet,
Stanza 10 and 11
But silently cast shed
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 oating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
This is the nal experience reported in the play, where the poet decides to one night
sh in the pond. This is completely contradictory to what just stated previously stating
That past nightfall I dared not cast. It is at this time that things start to become
As we nally see the world that we dont usually see as many are usually
asleep at this time.
Furthermore the person is very sleepy, and it usually at this time that dreams
and reality start to blend as you become more and more sleepy and drift into a
Note the oxymoron in the phrase still splashes which add to this very surreal image
as in no way, in any shape or form, that a splash can be still as they completely
contradict each other in every way that is unless the world described is surreal.
Also note the powerful imagery used to create this surreal image.
Owls hushing the oating woods
This piece of imagery is used to describe the darkness and the tree branches that
branch out into the night sky.
We do not notice where the tree branches originate from as they are hidden in the
darkness due to the density of the forest
Making it look as if they are oating.
This can also be a metaphor for the mind of the reader, for at night when you are
alone, sleepy and in the depths of night the branches, which may represent the
tendril of darkness of evils hold on you, try to engulf you to make you do things that
you will regret the next morning.
This comes along due to the irrationality that you get when you are sleepy. The
branches then branch out towards the pond, which in this case represent the mind,
trying to infect it.
For what might move, for what eye might move.
The poet looks around as he is scared
This indicates that he is scared for anything attacking him, presumably the creatures
of the forest.
However, what he fears even more is the eyes that might move the things that are
already watching him, preparing to strike.
Based on the descriptions of the pike before, we can also assume that he is afraid of
the pike watching him with those very scary beady eyes, ready to display its strength
in the water at any time.
Darkness beneath nights darkness had freed,
That rose slowly towards me, watching.
The rst darkness is a metaphor for the Pike, justifying the fact that:
1. It is currently in its element where it is most powerful. It has the best edge possible
for hunting purposes.
2. It is once again a creature of mystery, and it is at this time of night that it becomes
more mysterious as its behavioural patterns change and such approaching this very
crucial time when it has to hunt.
3. It is the thing that you should be more scared of than the dark itself due to the pikes
potency at night. Darkness beneath nights darkness had been freed. This gives the
image of the pike nally being free, indicating that it will be more ferocious and
animalistic than it normally is as whatever restriction that was in place before is now
4. The pike then rose slowly towards him, watching, foreshadowing the fact that he is
about to be attacked or that something dramatic will happen. The poem ends here,
leaving us wondering what that dramatic moment might be, in turn creating tension at
the end of the story. Genius.
Speaker of the poem:
The poet himself, Ted Hughes. In his mature self although metaphorically in his
childhood self as well.
Speakers attitude toward the subject of the poem:
Nostalgic towards his childhood and the pond. A profound respect, almost obsession,
with the pike due to its power and its impact on his childhood days.
Paired poems
1. Hunting Snake in the sense that both writers share a profound respect for the
animal that they are describing.
2. The Woodspurge due to both poets having a wider meaning towards their feature of
choice and that what they are actually describing could be completely allegorical,
representing something else.
3. Horses in the sese of the time shift throughout the text, although Horses is
chronological. They also share an equal amount of respect for the animal that they
are describing and also tend to point out the physical strength found in the animal.