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.
Saviour of the Isle of Arran's lobster population wins £117,000 'environmental Oscar'
Britain's bluebells now face a fight for their very survival
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
Have you heard 'the hum'? Mystery of Earth's low droning noise could now be solved
Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind
- 1 Student jailed for hacking University of Birmingham computers to improve his grades
- 2 Smartphones are making children borderline autistic, says psychiatrist
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...
Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...