Please discuss the way nature is portrayed in Edwin Muir's "The Horses" and Ted Hughes' "Pike."
Nature is approached in two very different ways when comparing Edwin Muir's "The Horses" and Ted Hughes' "Pike."
Muir's poem begins by describing the devastating effects of war on the narrator's farming community. In this futuristic poem, the narrator speaks of abandoning tractors to return to the ox and plow. It also describes the complete stillness—the silence. They receive no news of the war over the radio, which is dead—and yet soon they are satisfied with the silence. However, the horses arrive, breaking the silence—first quietly and then thundering:
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
At first they are frightened of the horses. They had "sold our horses in our fathers' time" in order to buy tractors. Now the tractors lie about rusting...and the presences of horses is unfamiliar to them.
Now they were strange to us…We did not dare go near them.
However, the horses pose no threat, which must surprise the community, but also must put them at ease. The animals seem to have come to recreate the relationship that once existed between men and horses:
Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
It seems the horses refuse to leave—they are "stubborn", and they are "shy." (These are examples of personification.) The people do not try to own the horses, which have come (it would seem) to help. "Free servitude" infers that the animals allow themselves to be used by the community so its people can survive, but the generous spirit of the animals "still can pierce our hearts." This shows that the people are more than appreciative: they are deeply moved emotionally. The world they knew is gone, but the horses have allowed them to begin again, which also infers a sense of indebtedness on the part of the community members. Nature is loving:
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.
Nature is very different in "Pike." This kind of fish is fierce and frightening. The opening stanza sets the tone of the poem:
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
These creatures are vicious; visions of passive, cold-water creatures are obliterated as we read of its mouth:
The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed at this date...
This is a creature that will use its fangs, and the jaws' description indicates that once attached to the object of its attention, it will not let go. The narrator also relays the story of three pike they kept in a fish tank—until three became two; and two became...one and a half:
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.
The narrator notes that pike "spare nobody," not even their own.
And so when the narrator goes fishing in the ancient pond, "as deep as England," where the immense pike silently swim, there is an element of fear. The narrator listens for a sound, watches for movement. At the poem's end, the narrator seems ill at ease, even haunted by the creatures beneath the waters of the pond...
...That rose slowly toward me, watching.
The narrator sees this form of nature as dangerous—vicious, watchful and merciless.
Nature is presented as benevolent in "The Horses," but dangerous—perhaps evil—in "Pike." Interestingly, in both poems, nature is also aware.