Envisage the Yin and Yang emblem. The idea behind it is that there is no such thing as purity. You can’t have pure evil – there is an element in all things of some good, however small. Similarly, you can’t have pure goodness – there is an element in all things good that is itself bad. We see the idea in great poems like Chinua Achebe’s “Vultures” and in our day to day actions as member of a fickle and capricious human race.
This is the idea of Pike. It is attempting to demystify; debunk a stereotype. It’s kind of like a love poem to what many consider a hideous animal – such is Hughes’s awe and veneration of the creature. Hughes more than anything else is trying to make us realise the beauty of the pike, its power, its wonder, its awesomeness and its importance, to both him and us.
Don’t get put off by its size – if you break down Hughes’ Pike into logical sections, then this poem will make perfect sense. The basic shape is an exploration of identity in stanzas 1-4; personal experience in 5-7; and in stanzas 8-11, a shift in and reassertion of the pike’s power.
The primary idea behind Pike is pike: the beauty of pike, the malevolence of pike, and Hughes essentially tries to communicate how in one simple, often overlooked animal exist two profundities of existence, the good and the bad.
There is beauty in how it moves, how it lives, how it is made – beauty in its power and sense of threat. The first 4 stanzas basically give us this paradox and underpinning this is Hughes’ sense of awe and disbelief. The tone is quiet, appreciative, impersonal – as if a connoisseur appreciating and marvelling over the contradictions of such an animal.
Stanzas 5-6 shift and give a personal account of Hughes trying to keep them as pets, to no avail, and linking his experience to the gruesome aggressiveness he seems to have witnessed in the wild in stanzas 6-7. These animals are fearsome, programmed to be killers, and intolerant even of each...