Ted Hughes’s Pike versus Sylvia Plath’s Mirror

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Hughes’s “Pike,” Plath’s “Mirror”

Abstract: Sylvia Plath’s 1961 poem “Mirror” can be read as a rejoinder to Ted

Hughes’s 1958 poem “Pike.” Plath shrinks her husband’s mythic grandeur to

reveal a psychodrama of the self as a vanishing façade.

Sylvia Plath’s 1961 poem "Mirror" builds up to the appearance of a terrible

fish, an internalized counterpart of the watching consciousness under the dark

pond of Ted Hughes's 1958 poem "Pike." Whereas Hughes's poem evokes the

spirit of the place and the genetic residue of England's violent past, a version

perhaps of Clarence's dream of the sea of fish-eaten victims of the Wars of the

Roses in Shakespeare's history play Richard III, and the sunless sea from where

ancestral voices prophecy war in Coleridge’s “”Kubla Khan,” Plath's "Mirror"

narrates a lifetime of interactions with a nameless, faceless woman and imagines

aging as disfigurement. In Hughes’s poem, pike are both weapons (cf. a “pike”

as an instrument of warfare) and vital presences in the physical world that

provide inspiration for his poetic vocation. In Plath’s poem, a fish resides in the

mirror, a monstrous figuration of coming to recognize oneself as an aging,

vanishing façade. The poet speaks through the voice of her mirror.

Exploring timeless, primitive, ruthless fish, “Pike” chronicles a series of

vignettes that, observes Matthew Fisher, begin in plain diction, giving an

objective, scientific description: “Pike, three inches long, perfect/ Pike in all parts,

green tigering the gold.” The word “tigering” in the second line, pace Fisher,

perhaps evokes William Blake’s “Tiger, tiger, burning bright/In the forest of the

night,” an image of the destructive, devouring element of Creation. The green

and go...

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