Scroll down for the TOP grade essay on ‘Pike’, below the poem.


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.

How does the poet convey intense feelings about the fish?
Notes and Essay
I started out writing about the subject or topic (i.e. a type of fish) as it’s pretty obvious, but tried to be specific when describing it, covering all aspects thoroughly. The poem is in the poet’s own voice and his feelings, so I mention this early on. I also comment on genre (pastoral) and how it deviates from what you’d expect, and also mention the tone (dark, terrifying, ancient beauty).

The poem Pike is about pike, and the poet’s feelings about them, fishing, about the brutality of some little ones he had as pets, which later grew out of control. It seems to be a nature poem, but this is not a romantic pastoral poem purely about the beauty and innocence of nature. This is dark, older than God, it seems terrifying where it is beautiful.

Next, write about structure. This is a good thing to comment on next as it’s usually pretty obvious. Don’t forget to comment on punctuation, and spot the odd or unusual things that are lurking. Like so –

The structure of the poem seems regular; each verse has four lines. However, the line length – though it looks regular – is deeply irregular ranging from seven syllables to thirteen – and this is a disturbing difference – as if something weird is lurking under the surface – rather like the pike itself. At first, the punctuation end-stops each stanza, giving it a tight feeling of control, as if the poet is tightly handling this dangerous fish. Later, stanzas run seamlessly into each other with enjambement, as if the fish is getting out of control. There were ‘three’, ‘finally one’ – as it has eaten the others, moving through the murkiness of ‘weed’ into the next stanza where the poet concludes ‘they spare nobody’. This is a brutal, cannibal fish that follows no rules. The poet shows the length, depth and age of the fish by an extended description that runs the length of this rather long poem.

I’m not going to even mention the fact it’s unrhymed. There is nothing interesting to say about this (in my opinion!).

So, for our next paragraph, I think we should talk about the voice of the poet, his mood and attitude to the fish.

This poem focusses on the fish – describing it – and only later do we get the first person ‘we’ and ‘I’. However, the poet’s feelings about the fish are clear from the start. He uses positive language like ‘perfect’, ‘gold’ – which has connotations of precious wealth, as does ’emerald’. He describes the fish as being ‘stunned by their own grandeur’: he suggests this is an arrogant, self-aware fish, approaching personification – as if it has human awareness. However, a violent, dark and negative mood is juxtaposed against the positive one. He uses the semantic field of evil ‘killers’, ‘malevolent’ and ‘horror’, suggesting deliberate evil, which is even more chilling next to words like ‘dance’ – as if this is elegant, enjoyable. This kind of antithesis, in ‘delicacy and horror’, quickly gives way to an unbroken ugly mood towards the pike: ‘jaws’ ‘hooked’ ‘clamped’ ‘fangs’ ‘vice’ ‘iron’ ‘death’, and in the last few stanzas, the main mood is fear. The poet is afraid of the fish: ‘I dared not’ ‘hair frozen on my head’ and the ‘dark pond’ with the word ‘darkness’ repeated twice – as if stuttering through fear. He describes it as a ‘dream’ but it has a mysterious, nightmarish quality.

What to comment on next: how the fish behind glass are contained, but still mysterious, then hidden under beautiful lily pads, then disappeared into the depths of ages – as if ancient – then night fishing terrors – with something he can’t see. This seems to be memories, some of which (or all of which) are from childhood, so we could link this to the theme of: childish fears which still have a hold on us…