Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As in most of his poetry, in “Pike” Ted Hughes uses the natural world to its fullest advantage as a stage where humans are only one species among many and are clearly not as powerful as they would like to believe. Hughes’s poetry dwells on the innate violence in the natural world and on instinctive predatory behavior; yet, because this behavior is presented in such a manner as to seem uncontrived and natural, Hughes seems to view it as appropriate. Nature as depicted in a poem such a “Pike” shares the perspective of other British poets such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who described nature as “red in tooth and claw” (In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850). These writers—Hughes included—attempt to reconcile what at first appears to be a horrible violence in nature. Their concern reflects a conflict that has troubled people since Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution offered an explanation for human development that appeared to omit the hand of God. Perhaps humans are no different from a creature such as the pike, driven by impulse and appetite in a universe that follows no moral law but eat or be eaten.

Hughes clearly views the pike as a creature that belongs in its water world, an animal that exemplifies survival of the fittest. The fish is a part of, rather than apart from, the natural world in which it feeds. The pike shares the colors of the water, the weeds, the pond bottom, and the shadows; it is in harmony with and a necessary part of this world, but...

(The entire section is 606 words.)