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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Pike - Amy Lowell

In the brown water,
Thick and silver-sheened in the sunshine,
Liquid and cool in the shade of the reeds,
A pike dozed.
Lost among the shadows of stems
He lay unnoticed.
Suddenly he flicked his tail,
And a green-and-copper brightness
Ran under the water.

Out from the reeds
Came the olive-green light,
And orange flashed up
Through the sun-thickened water.
So the fish passed across the pool,
Green and copper,
A darkness and a gleam,
And the blurred reflections of the willows on the opposite bank
Received it.


This is not the first time I've posted a poem entitled "The Pike."  Theodore Roethke also wrote a rather famous poem by the same name, which I posted nearly three years ago.  Both poems describe very similar scenes: a pike dozing in the sun, and then, the sudden dramatic action of its strike.  The two poems capture this sudden explosion of action in different ways, with Roethke's being primarily focused on the fish itself, and its appearance, whereas Lowell focuses on the scene, particularly the colors and lights, around the fish.

Images of light, color, and movement abound.  The "brown water" is "thick and silver-sheened in the sunshine."  The pike however, we are only told is dozing in the sun.  However, with a flick of his tail, the pike catches the sun, and his "green-and-copper brightness" runs "under the water."  Light and color are the dominant means by which we perceive movement in this poem.  In the second stanza, the pike does not come out of the reeds, but instead, "out of the reeds came the olive-green light."  With the pike's strike, we're told nothing of the pike itself, but rather that "orange flashed up through the sun-thickened water."  When the pike moves across the pool, it's "green and copper, a darkness and a gleam" that moves.  Instead of the observer in Roethke's poem, who leans "almost into the water" the only thing here to receive the motions and colors, are the "blurred reflections of the willows on the opposite bank."

What we see here is the difference between a scene observed (Roethke's poem) and a scene imagined.  Lowell's scene is devoid of the agency of watching, which is why it is free to indulge so wonderfully in abstract images of light and color.  There is no imaginative self, no narratorial presence in Lowell's poem.  I find that to be its great strength.  It doesn't tell us what some observer saw, but presents a scene as if it is, not as it was to some other's eye.  The language is so crisp and clear that there is little for me to explicate.  Enjoy the details, and imagine the scene in your mind's eye.

2 comments:

  1. Pike are ambush predators. The lie perfectly still until they strike their prey and most times you are totally unaware of their presence until you observe the changes in light exactly described in this poem. This may be a scene imagined, but it really does capture the details of what I remember when I think of fishing for these brutes!

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