Michael McCarthy: You needn't travel far to find a monster
Nature Notebook: The pike's emergence somehow justified another, age-old fear, that hidden depths must hold horrors
Tuesday 09 February 2010
I saw a monster at the weekend. It came from the depths. It filled me with awe. It almost filled me with dread. There was certainly a bit of dread in there somewhere.
It was a pike. It weighed 22lbs, and I watched a man catch it from a river in Hampshire, and when it came out, and it was briefly on the bank – he put it right back – I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was the size of a gatepost, a fat gatepost with killer teeth, and it was beautiful beyond words and terrifying at the same time.
The monster-dread clearly loiters deep within our genes, from the thousands of human generations when we might have been prey as much as predators. A millennium after the last British bear was killed off, we don't have many monsters in southern England, a neatly-tended landscape typified by the cottage garden; but the pike will do.
I spent some time trying to work out why the sight of it was quite so engrossing, and first, I realised, was that such creatures are rarely seen, let alone in such intimate proximity. It's a lot harder to be a fish-watcher than a birdwatcher. Second, it was the fact that it had come from beneath the surface, the shiny pewter surface of a winter river, and its emergence somehow justified another, age-old fear, that hidden depths must hold horrors. Third was its sheer beauty, this lovely lozenge of emerald green and yellow, but fourthly and most tellingly was its unmistakable identity as a killer, its whole streamlined shape designed for slaughter.
It might not be able to kill us, but it's not the size your imagination fixes on, it's the killing ability, and anyway, as Ted Hughes said in his famous poem, capturing the point exactly, pike are "a hundred feet long in their world". Hughes's poem is one of the best of his intense evocations of wild creatures, the muscular language perfectly matching the brooding savagery he is describing; only the passionate fisherman that he was could have produced it.
Odes to the pike
There is another poem about pike which is now much less well-known: it was written in 1919 by Edmund Blunden, one of the First World War poets who survived, like Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.
Blunden's flowery diction is a world away from Hughes's tough talk, but the poem works just as well in conveying the essence of our aquatic assassin. Comparing and contrasting them would make a good A-level English question, but forget that, why not have a go yourself? They're both on the internet. If you love the natural world and you love poetry, you'll come away enriched.
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Cow 'emissions' more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars
Greenham Reach: The families trying to prove that compact, ecological farms can make a living
Boiling ourselves to death: Temperatures on Earth hit another record high, here’s the projected effect on humans
Have you heard 'the hum'? Mystery of Earth's low droning noise could now be solved
- 1 Isis 'jihadi bride' claims forced sex with Yazidi girls is never rape because Koran condones it
- 2 Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 3 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...