The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Pike” is written in free verse and consists of forty-four lines divided into eleven stanzas. The title focuses immediate attention on the creature under scrutiny and on the natural world, which informs most of Ted Hughes’s work. The poem can be divided into three sections or perspectives.

The first section, stanzas 1 and 2, sets the scene, depicting the voracious, ruthless nature of this fish and establishing its green water world. In these first stanzas, Hughes maintains an objective narrative perspective in which the fish and its environment occupy the center of attention.

The next section, the third through seventh stanzas, begins a consideration of the predatory nature of the pike and describes it as it moves through a green, gold, shadowy habitat. No sounds disturb the quiet of the fish’s waiting expectation beneath the water’s surface. In stanzas 3 and 4, Hughes graphically describes the fish’s “jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs” and makes the reader sense the pike’s ruthless nature as it lurks silently waiting in the weeds for its prey. In stanzas 5 and 6, he heightens this vision by describing what happened when he kept three small pike captive in an aquarium: The ruthless fish preyed upon one another until only one remained, “with a sag belly and the grin it was born with.” Hughes juxtaposes a second scene of the pike as unstoppable predator by concluding this section with the image of two dead, six-pound,...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The conversational tone of “Pike” serves as an effective device for Hughes to heighten the tension and impact of the poem’s violence. Hughes’s choice of language is simple, with few polysyllabic words; his phrases are stark, almost bare—without the frills that people seem to need in order to escape from the brutal realities of living. Such simplicity allows Hughes to make “Pike” a highly visual poem; his descriptions evoke sharp images for the reader in which the fish becomes tangible. One can see the water, see the weeds, and sense the presence of the pike as it blends in, waiting to lunge at its unsuspecting quarry. The descriptions are rhythmic, lulling the reader and allowing the final stanzas to take on additional sinister import.

Hughes skillfully juxtaposes the natural with the human world, pairing the images of the fish floating patiently in its natural element with those of an artificial world that imprisons the creature for the cruel or whimsical purposes of the human that has captured it. Because Hughes contrasts what he regards as naturally appropriate, such as the pike’s very existence, which he describes as “A life subdued to its instrument,” with the next section in which the pike eat one another in the tank, the poet is able to call into question the behavior of the people who captured the fish in the first place.

By focusing on the expression of the pike—as a grinning set of hungry, vicelike jaws—Hughes...

(The entire section is 441 words.)