Ted Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England in 1930. His poetry discards Romantic notions about the natural world. He became British Poet Laureate in 1984 and was so until his death in 1998.
In Pike Hughes offers a far from Romantic view of nature in his depiction of this primitive and malevolent fish.
Stanzas 1 – 4 offers a mix of objective description (‘green tigering the gold’) and subjective description (‘their own grandeur).
Stanzas 5 – 7 include what appears to be personal anecdote of three pike kept at home inside an aquarium and then the grisly description of two large pike that had been locked in deadly combat: ‘One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet’.
Stanzas 8 – 11 mingles personal recollection (‘A pond I fished, fifty years across’) with reflection.
Hughes reading the poem:
Stanzas 1 – 4
How does the use of colours add to the dramatic impact of Hughes’ description?
Explore the effects of particular words or phrases: e.g. ‘Killers from the egg’, ‘malevolent aged grin’, ‘submarine delicacy and horror’, ‘The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs’, ‘gills kneading quietly’. What do they make of the chilling line ‘A life subdued to its instrument’?
What qualities do you think Hughes attributes to pike?
Stanzas 5 – 7
Ted Hughes is economic with words, your explanation of what is happening might be longer than the actual poem.
What impressions are conveyed by the use of the word ‘jungled’?
This is another instance of a noun being made into a verb (see ‘tigering’ in the first stanza) –
What does the simile ‘as a vice locks’ add to the description?
Stanzas 8 – 11
Account for the shift in content and tone that occurs with stanza eight. The pond where the speaker went fishing in his youth is described as ‘deep as England’. Consider this simile with its connotations of England’s rich history and also the more immediate context of a boy fishing.
Explore how Hughes conveys the eerie atmosphere and the boy’s fear in the final three stanzas. Ask them to look at the words and also to listen to the sounds. It is interesting to hear the long ‘o’ sound in ‘rose slowly towards’ in the last line. How effective do you find this use of assonance and other uses of sound devices in adding to the drama of the situation?
Consider the ambiguity of the poem’s final two words: ‘me, watching’. Who is watching whom?
Thematic links with set poems
Nature: Pied Beauty, Horses, Hunting Snake, Summer Farm, Where I
Romantic v anti-romantic: Pied Beauty, Horses, Hunting Snake, A Birthday, Upon
Time: A Different History, Continuum, Horses, The City Planners,
The Planners, Summer Farm