The poem, “October Salmon” is a poem about a salmon swimming upstream to its breeding ground to lay its eggs. Hughes has cleverly titled the poem “October Salmon” as the word ‘salmon’ is singular and plural. This poem seems to be about a single fish, yet it could be referring to many others like it. The first few stanzas contrast the grandeur of the journey with the fertility and ugliness of death. For instance, Hughes says “After his two thousand miles, he rests”. This shows that the salmon has travelled a remarkable individual journey; however, it is made all for nothing. Hughes says that the salmon is “Four years old at most”. This shows how young the salmon was. The fact that the salmon is still a youth also makes this journey significant.Order now
Hughes then describes the salmon as “already a veteran”. This shows again, not only how the salmon is young, but also how he is similar to a soldier at war. Hughes continues this theme in stanza eight when he talks of “badges and decorations” and also in the final few lines of the poem as he talks of the salmon as being “so loyal to his doom”. Also, in the next line it talks of the salmon “…his service”. The word service is often related to ones military career. This is another link to the war struggle. This is perhaps a human quality in the fish. In the fourth stanza, Hughes talks of months “embroidered into the earth’s beauty-dress”. This shows how they are beautiful, intricate and of a high level of craftsmanship. Hughes then talks about an “autumnal pod of his flower”. The pod refers to the world’s cycle. He is showing that death will come, and then there will be new life.
The words ripened and muddy dregs are in a particularly strange juxta position as you would usually think of the word “ripened” referring to new life or something pleasurable; however, dregs are usually found in particularly old wines and are usually of irritation. Hughes then talks of the salmon as “reclaiming his sea-metals.” This shows how the fish his reclaiming his glorious past. As he swims further upstream, he is becoming more familiar of his surroundings, his birthplace.
Disease is a major theme in this poem. The first major appearance of this theme is in the last line of the seventh stanza: “He hangs there, patched with leper clothes.” “He hangs there” shows that he is lifeless and the fact that he is wearing leper-clothes show you that he has suffered wounds or damage and he is some what diseased. Hughes then goes onto talk about a “fungoid anemone of canker”. The word canker indicates that the fish is diseased. The harsh sounds in this sentence mimic the rot and disease of the wish with their awkward pronunciation.
Hughes then says “Can the caress of water ease him?” This perhaps refers to killing the fish and putting him out of his misery. The long vowels in the word ease are pleasant and this shows how the pain is being taken away from the fish. Hughes then talks about how the “flow will not let up for a minute.” This shows how there is no comfort in nature and how the force of nature is unstoppable. Hughes then contrasts between the river and the sea by saying, “What a change! From that covenant of polar light To this shroud in a gutter.” This shows how much nicer the sea was compared to the place where the salmon is now.
Hughes then talks about how the salmon is “death’s puppet”. This shows that his death is a form of entertainment for humans and that he is almost being teased to death. It gives you a sense of performance. Also at the end of the stanza, Hughes talks of the “humiliation of the role”. This shows how the fish has been forced into this entertainment and again relates to the fish as being part of a show. Also, Hughes talks of “This chamber of horrors”. This again relates to the fish as being part of a show.
This imagery is used again towards the end of the poem when Hughes says that if the “boys see him they will try to kill him”. This shows how the salmon is a small cog in a big machine. It shows how the wonderful story that we have just heard is irrelevant to humanity and how humans have no respect for nature and its other inhabitants. We can also see this in the final line, when Hughes talks of the salmon being in the “machinery of heaven”. This is also the first time we see human involvement in the poem and contrasts the will of humans and animals.
Hughes then describes the death of the salmon in an abrupt manner. He says that is just “how it is”. It is very simple and it shows that there is no alternative to the fish. Finally, Hughes contrasts how the salmon felt at the beginning of the poem to how he is now, towards the end of the journey. He says that “this is what is going on there, under the scrubby oak tree, hour after hour”. In conclusion, Hughes uses the imagery of nature to show the opulence of the salmon’s journey and what he has achieved all to die for nothing. He shows that although the salmon try so hard they can not always make it back to their breeding ground as it is a long and painful journey. Hughes also shows what man I like compared to the salmon. He shows that we are not thoughtful towards other creatures and perhaps how we do not live life to the fullest, like the salmon do.