The Great Irish Pike

Ted Hughes

The pike has been condemned.
The Virgin, dipping her lily in the lough, decreed it.
This is no precinct for anything fishy
That revives the underhang of the Dragon.

He fell asleep in Job.
He woke in The Book of Vermin.

And in the Courts of Beauty-care and Cosmetics
His picture is pinned up – as the criminal norm.
No trial for those eyes. No appeal
For that mouth. And flesh of such length,
So gilled, so slimed, is flagrante delicto.

Nursery trout bore witness in falsetto.
Shameless hatchery smolts
United their plea with the helpless and oppressed.

And the pretty rudd
Cast themselves as the allotted
Mediaeval maidens.

Whenever the pike tried to protest
The show of his fangs emptied the hearing.

Therefore the vibrato of Sunday bells
Atomised him
In the straitened souls of our grandmothers.

The water-colourist of human progress
Is painting the ponds afresh,
The rivers and the loughs, without him.

Even the deft snake of Freud
Invested him, religiously,
For nightmare returns only.

Can he still be said to exist?

Between the mud bed sown with bronze daggers and gold fibulae
And the crannog reeds guarded by ornamental herons

The pike in his cell

Only survives till the hired German beheads him
And strings his skull, with twelve others,
Along the gunnel of a Shannon cruiser,

Or nails it, on a plaque,
Over the resurrection of Valhalla.