They met in 1959, the same year Hughes wrote 'Pike'.
Ted Hughes’ ground-breaking first collection is The Hawk in the Rain (1957). After a period spent teaching and writing in the United States, Hughes and his wife returned to England in December 1959. The following year Hughes published Lupercal which sealed his reputation as a major poet and includes many of his most popular works about animals, including the 'Pike'.
Elaine Feinstein's new biography of Ted Hughes was published in 2001.
In the book Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, the author writes: Ted's interest in pike fishing in his teens approached an obsession. He spoke of dreaming regularly about pike and about one particular lake where he did most of his fishing. 'Pike had become fixed at some very active, deep level in my imaginative life.' It was as if pike had become symbolic of his inner, vital being, though he would hardly have been able to articulate that thought in his teenage years.
Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold. Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin. They dance on the surface among the flies. Or move, stunned by their own grandeur, Over a bed of emerald, silhouette Of submarine delicacy and horror. A hundred feet long in their world.
In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads- Gloom of their stillness: Logged on last year's black leaves, watching upwards. Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs Not to be changed at this date: A life subdued to its instrument; The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.
Three we kept behind glass, Jungled in weed: three inches, four, And four and a half: red fry to them- Suddenly there were two. Finally one With a sag belly and the 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 other's gullet: The outside eye stared: as a vice locks- The same iron in this eye Though its film shrank in death. A pond I fished, fifty yards across, Whose lilies and muscular tench Had outlasted 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 But silently cast and fished 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 floating woods Frail on my ear against the dream Darkness beneath night's darkness had freed, That rose slowly toward me, watching. Ted Hughes (1959)
The poem falls into three sections: first four stanzas describe the Pike and its habitat. the next three stanzas look at Pike kept behind glass; the final four stanzas recall a specific pond and the sinister experience of fishing there.
Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts. reference to the way babies are seen as faultless miniature version of adults tigering : an image of the destructive. green and gold may recall description of the Golden Age. Killers from the egg : they are designed to kill other animals. Also, it signifies the killer instinct of the fish.
Grandeur: They are very big animals. delicacy and horror: They are beautiful and deadly. A hundred feet long in their world: They are the kings of the river ruling the submarine life
They are like a giant dictator ruling with a rod of iron instilling fear into other animals. They patroll the reeds, searching for unwary and slow smaller fish who do not notice their coming death until it's too late.
The jaws' hooked clamp and fangs It is about how pikes hunt. They catch their preys with their teeth. A life subdued to its instrument They are like a weapon of death or eating machines.
He and his friend put three pikes in a aquarium. Jungled in weed: A figurative jungle with unusual inhabitants for a domestic aquarium. One pike is three inches long; the other two are bit larger. These three pikes are oberved closely. The fish even turns to cannibalism to fill the his stomach. One of them eats the other two. One survivor with the other two inside him.
A similar case in the wild in which he came across two pikes. None of them spares another’s life. Corpses of mutually destructive two pikes in the wild. Both of them are dead and dry and on the surface of the water.
One jammed past its gills down the other's gullet This is an extremely disturbing and unsettling image. The great struggles of two fish locked in mortal combat. Both fighting for the same life.In the end one finally manages to kills the other. As the victor attempts to swallow his victim, he realizes that he has bitten off more than he can chew and chokes to death deprived of oxygen by the food he fought so hard to kill.
The outside eye stared The eye of the outside fish has an iron stare—a fish-eyed, alien, blank, dead stare. The outer fish stares from a dead eye.
The rest of the poem describes the poets attempt to catch a particularly large and old pike. The “fifty yards across” gives an objective sense of the size of the pond; the lilies and the tench that have outlasted monastery stones contrasts the time dimension of the survival reach of the habitant of natural habitat against the medieval human institution of the monastery and its stone construction.
The still, deep pond is so old, legendary and prehistoric yet as for richness in history, it is “as deep as England”. Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old Its pike are imagined to be so big, deep and old, they disquiet the speaker, who dared not cast “past nightfall.”
But silently cast and fished There is nobody else near him. He is so alone and he is so close to such huge fish, his hair frozen as if he was in fear. For what might move, for what eye might move. He waits there as if expecting a visitation from the drowned or dream world of the ancient dead.
Pike’s final stanza is about the outer scene with the imagination of the speaker as the woods begin to float and the sound of the owls and the splashes on the pond grow frail on the ear in contrast to the dream freed from the darkness deeper than night’s darkness. This deep dark dream, says the poet, “rose slowly towards me, watching.”
Pike’s final two words, “me, watching” suggest ambiguously: I watched or sensed the presence of another consciousness as the immense, prehistoric pike rose toward me, or it may mean as the immense old pike from legendary depths corresponds to an aspect of the mind of the speaker and to his genetic past, the “me, watching” is the “I” or “eye” of the poet’s identification with his fatal heritage and survival as predator.