Poem introduction

Here is one of my prize catches. I used to be a very keen angler for pike, and I still am when I get the chance. I did most of my early fishing in a quite small lake, really a large pond. This pond went down to a great depth in one place. Sometimes on hot days we would see something like a railway sleeper lying near the surface, and there certainly were huge pike in that pond - I suppose they're even bigger by now. Recently I felt like doing some pike fishing but in circumstances where there was no chance of it and over the days as I remembered the extreme pleasures of that sport, bits of the following poem began to arrive. By looking at the place in my memory very hard and very carefully, and by using the words that grew naturally out of the pictures and feelings, I captured not just a pike, I captured the whole pond including the monsters I never even hooked. Here is the poem which I call 'Pike':

Pike

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: fed 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 towards me, watching.


from New Selected Poems 1957- 1994 (Faber, 1995), by permission of the publisher, Faber & Faber Ltd. Recording used by permission of the BBC.

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