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similarities and differences in the poems ‘Pike’ by Ted Hughes and ‘Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan

Topics: Poetry / Pages: 6 (1394 words) / Published: Feb 13th, 2014
Compare and contrast any two poems to explain how the poet uses poetic techniques to suggest his thoughts and feelings about the subject
I will be analysing the similarities and differences in the poems ‘Pike’ by Ted Hughes and ‘Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan. I will focus on what techniques both poets used to achieve the view of nature, setting, structure, subject, theme, message, tone and emotions of both poems.
Pike and Cockroach both share a post Darwinian view of nature. The pikes “jaws hooked clamp of fangs”, here Hughes is using stressed syllables to imitate to sound of a pikes teeth clamping together. The subject of Halligan’s poem is a “giant cockroach”. He has chosen this creature as it has a universal association with disgust and the word ‘giant’ emphasises the fear this creature brings to readers. Both of these creatures present the dark side of nature. However, Pike focuses on the details and action of the pike to make it seem more impressive and Cockroach focuses on the reader’s initial reaction of disgust towards the cockroach.
The settings of the poems are completely opposite to each other. Both poets have chosen each particular setting to emphasise different points. Pike is set in a pond “whose lilies and muscular tench had outlasted every visible stone of the monastery who planted them” indicating that the lake is older and more enduring than the civilised human world. Hughes does this to create the imagery of an unknown world, and thus to the narrator, as a young boy, it is unfamiliar. Creating a source of fascination emphasises the tone of awe. Moreover, Pike is set at “nightfall” which creates a gothic and mysterious atmosphere, again evoking curiosity. In contrast, Halligan in Cockroach does not specify the setting, although as there is a mention the “wainscoit and the door” and a “table leg”. Being domestic items, the reader imagines the poem to be set in the house of the narrator. I believe that Halligan does this to make the poem more accessible to readers because a familiar domestic scene is easy to relate to, therefore the theme becomes more understandable and emphasised.
Pike and Cockroach have very different structures but share the same conclusion. Pike is a relatively long poem containing forty-four stanzas. It is also a concrete poem as the shape of the poem itself imitates the long striped structure of the pike form. I believe Hughes applies this structure to subconsciously emphasise the beauty and size of the pike. Furthermore, Pike adopts a two part structure throughout the poem used in the theme of the combination of “delicacy and horror”. In addition, it is also used to reveal the past and present. The poem is in two sections, the first ending at stanza sixteen. The narrator in the second section uses the word “legendary” to describe the depth, as this word is exaggeratory it indicates naivety and youth, thus suggesting he is a boy in this section. In contrast, in the first section the poem adapts a more descriptive tone describing the part of the pike as “three inches long”. Because of the use of accurate analysis in this first section, it contrasts with the second suggesting that the narrator, as an adult, is looking back on his experience as a boy. This contrasts to Cockroach which has the structure of a sonnet, consisting of a single subject, theme and tone condensed into 14 lines. I believe the poet does this to reflect and imitate the theme of the short and irrelevance of life. However, both poems conclude in a stanza that reveals that the poet sees a mirror image of himself in the subject. In Pike the last stanza is; “that rose slowly towards me, watching”, this indicates that the boy is looking down at the water and seeing his reflection as the pike because the pike has adopted now the same position as the narrator and they are both ‘watching’. In Cockroach the last stanza is; “I thought I recognised myself”, suggesting that whilst watching the cockroach the narrator has realised that the cockroach is imitating his own life.
Both poems have a similar subject and theme but different concluding messages. The title and subject of both poems is animal; ‘Pike’ and ‘Cockroach’. In addition, both poems also share the same general theme which is; the poet sees themselves as the creature because of the human significance of the animal and their relation to human behaviour . However, the message and deeper themes are different. In Pike Hughes’ deeper theme is that humans’ like pike have two sides to their behaviour, a side of beauty and elegance and a basic instinctive post Darwinian side. We can see this from the lake being “as deep as England” suggesting that the lake is England and the pike is a human. This is different from Cockroach as it reveals that human life begins with a sense of purpose and direction but it becomes lost and deteriorates as time progresses. At first the cockroach “seemed quite satisfied to race a path between the wainscot and the door”, Halligan here uses the imagery of a straight line to convey organisation and purpose. We then discover the cockroach “soon he turned to jog in crooked rings”, presenting the previous image of a line transformed to a circle indicating loss of direction in life. In addition the word ring suggests that the cockroach is stuck in a vicious cycle and has lost forever the direction of his life.
The overall tone of the two poems is different but they both contain an element of fascination. Hughes compares the pike to a “submarine of delicacy and horror”. Here he uses the word ‘submarine’ as a pun; as it is an underwater body but also an element of war. In contrast the pike is also described to “dance on the surface”, an image of delicacy and harmony, here Hughes has created an oxymoron to convey that the narrator has mixed feelings, as he is in awe of the creature but is also fearful of its presence. The poem Cockroach is a detailed account of the actions of a cockroach in a small time period. The narrator accounts details alike; he “scratched his wings” conveying the fascination the narrator displays. Although, this is unlike pike because instead of being repelled by the animal the fascination is coupled with a pitiful tone instead; “was this due payment for some vicious crime?”
Both Hughes and Halligan create mixed emotions throughout the poem but the poets use it in different ways. In Cockroach Halligan uses mixed feelings, one being in the initial thought of a “giant cockroach” to the reader is one of disgust, but towards the end of the poem the reader begins to feel sorry for the cockroach by adopting the tone of the narrator. This is achieved by the cockroach being described as a “victim”, thus portraying him as innocent. This causes the reader to now feel sympathy or empathy for the cockroach, therefore creating mixed emotions. This is unlike Pike, as in Cockroach the reader has mixed emotions but in Pike it is the narrator himself who has the mixed emotions. The main focus is the pike’s element of horror as a pike’s “life is subdued to its instruments” being; its jaws and fangs which are instruments of predation. The secondary focus is on the pikes striped fins and gills, an example of this is the pike is described as “gold”, “emerald” and “amber”. The imagery of these rich colours reminds the readers of precious stones presenting the pike as beautiful and delicate. Hughes here displays the technique of using a part to stand for a whole revealing the poets mixed emotions concerning the pike.

In conclusion Pike and Cockroach share many similarities and difference using many different techniques including: Stressed syllables, emphasis, exaggerating, repeated imagery, concrete poetry, two part structure, sonnet structure, imitation, metaphor, oxymoron, contrasting emotions and language and using a part to stand for a whole. I believe the main commonality between Pike and Cockroach is they both are like fables but with a dark humour twist. The morals are not light hearted, as in Cockroach it explores the lack of meaning in life and Pike explores humans propensity to revert to instinctive animalistic behaviour.

By Pip Rabach

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