Saturday, 20 August 2011


One of my favourite of Ted Hughes's poems is Pike:


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

I wonder if the pond he refers to in this 1968 letter to Assia Wevill was what he had in mind when he wrote it:

'Yesterday Gerald & I drove to Mexborough & to the pond where I used to catch all the pike. The lodge, where my friend had lived, was a ruin. The garden was a forest. We went down to the pond and it had shrunk to an oily puddle about twenty feet across in a black basin of mud, with oil cans & rubbish. Nicky had brought the fishing rod and he made a few casts into the poisoned looking water among the rubbish. It was horribly depressing. My name carved on the trees. It began to pour with rain. Then I made one token cast - a ceremonial farewell - and there among the rubbish I hooked a huge perch. The biggest I ever caught. It was very weird, a complete dream.'

Sad, if so.


  1. ZMKC, have you read any of Beverley Nichols books about creating his garden? They strike me as the sort if thing you would enjoy immensely

  2. I haven't, although I loved his children's books - The Tree that Sat Down and The Stream that Stood Still

  3. The Tree That Sat Down! I hadn't thought of that book in ages. A golden-orange front cover filled with a picture of a tree. My library had it in Penguin paperback, I think. Hughes was the first adult poet I can remember liking, the first poet who wasn't Edward Lear or who didn't come in an anthology with a title like Verses for Children -- and the poem was "Hawk Roosting." (After that Les Murray a little bit ago it strikes me that "My manners are tearing off heads" from "Hawk" is a Murrayish line.)

  4. I'm looking at my copy of The Tree that Sat Down, and wondering if Murdoch had an early franchise we didn't know about:
    "So Sam took the day off. And when he got outside he went to the nearest Wicked Newspaper Shop. Of course only a very bad boy would have been able to find it, for the Wicked Newspaper Shops are always hidden away in dark alleys and crooked side streets. A red candle splutters in the window, the blinds are half drawn, and a raven sits on the doorstep, uttering gloomy squawks. If you ever get lost, and pass such a shop, never, never, go inside. It is full of the most dreadful books and pictures which will make you wish you had never been born.'

  5. Either that, or he bought them out, moved them into public places, pulled the blinds up, removed the raven, and put them online, so that the brand could be opened up to Very Good Boys as well as Bad ones.

  6. I wish he'd kept the raven.