Ted Hughes' "Hawk Roosting"


Throughout the poem the Hawk sits at the top of a tall tree, where he either sleeps or ponders on his power. He is self-obsessed, as all his thoughts relate to his own circumstances and the fact that he holds the power of death in his talons.

With that in mind, we can read each stanza to see what aspect of his own power (and of course the power of Nature through him) he is thinking about.

The Voice:
The voice is that of the Hawk himself, and through him, Nature. The voice is a 'thinking' voice; there is no action in the poem. As Hughes has intimated to us that the Hawk is a metaphor for Nature, we can also take it that Nature is thinking these thoughts.

We need to note that Nature with a capital letter means a force or a being, rather than just 'the things you get in the countryside.'

Throughout the poem the Hawk sits at the top of a tall tree, where he either sleeps or ponders on his power. He is self-obsessed, as all his thoughts relate to his own circumstances and the fact that he holds the power of death in his talons.

With that in mind, we can read each stanza to see what aspect of his own power (and of course the power of Nature through him) he is thinking about.

We have seen previously that Hughes tends to use the language and expression of ordinary speech, but in this poem he does something slightly different. In order to suit the character of the Hawk, Hughes has used rather more sophisticated or elegant expressions. If the Hawk represents Nature with all that power, then he is a kingly creature, the height of Creation. He expresses himself carefully and in rather a formal way.

For instance, in the first stanza the Hawk boasts that he is not bothered by the "falsifying dream" of ordinary creatures. When awake and in sleep he likes to

"rehearse" perfect kills. These expressions are formal in character and imply a high degree of control on the Hawk's part. We see other examples of this kind of language and attitude throughout the poem.

In the second stanza, the Hawk sees the height of trees, the air's buoyancy and the sun's heat as things arranged especially for his convenience. In fact he sees the whole of the earth as his own.
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

This personification of the earth shows the Hawk in control over it, like a king or governor. In this line the Hawk is presenting himself as the representative of Nature. It is Nature that controls the earth.
As we approach the central section of the poem, we hear the voice of Nature more and more clearly. While the Hawk speaks of his own feathers and feet, it must be Nature who says:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
The Hawk can do these things to a certain extent, but the arrogance and pride, as well as the performance of these feats, must be those of Nature.

In Stanza 4, the Hawk speaks of his own straight flight "through the bones of the living" as though he would be intact and alive at the end of it. However, Hughes himself once pointed out that this is not possible, because the Hawk, like every other creature in nature (note the small 'n') has to fight against the enemies that are placed in his way. He will also die one day, so it is Nature who has the power to allot death, not the Hawk.

We would call that an example of irony, as the Hawk is deceived as to his own power.

Hughes stated on one occasion that the last three lines of the poem are Nature speaking. It is Nature who makes the decisions as to whether things will remain the same, not the Hawk.

The tone is hard and brutal. The Hawk says in line 16:
My manners are tearing off heads
The expression is unadorned, while the lines are made up of statements that are brief, terse and always to the point. The hard tone is derived partly from the fact that the Hawk (and therefore Nature) speaks logically and with a certain intellectual pride.
The Hawk speaks emphatically and is confident that we will find him as fascinating as he does himself:
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather
Now I hold Creation in my foot
The alliteration in these lines is there to hold them together but it is also produced by the fact that the Hawk is so arrogant and sure of itself that once it uses a word, that is the right one. You cannot imagine the Hawk searching for synonyms.

The Portrait:
Hughes's portrait of the Hawk is an attempt to convey the power and arrogance of such creatures. He finds this power in what could be described as their singleness of purpose.
Ordinary mortals are distracted from their tasks by all sorts of hopes, fears and opinions. The Hawk is free from such "falsifying dreams" and because he considers no one but himself, he acts exactly as he likes.
There is no sophistry in my body
He says, meaning that he is what he is and nothing else. His flight has only "one path" because whatever decision he makes must be the right one.

The poem makes the statement that Nature has power over the earth and also has the power to allot death. Nature will survive, unlike creatures like the hawk, ensuring that her domain will remain unchanged.

(a) Summary of content
Many of Hughes's poems deal with the animal world. In this poem he describes the hawk as the epitome of self- reliance and self- assurance. It has the ability to kill fearlessly. The hawk claims that the high trees have been created especially for its convenience and it boasts that the buoyancy (the ability to keep afloat) of the air and the sun's rays are to its advantage.
The sun rays help the hawk in the sense that the prey is blinded by them when the hawk swoops down to make a kill with the sun above and behind it. The hawk sees itself as master of the whole creation. It can kill where it pleases on earth because it is the master of it all. Its methods are simple and direct- it tears off the heads of its victims. The hawk does not have to justify its right to kill. It is a natural and primeval right. That is how it has always been since the hawk has first been created and that is how it will always be.

(b) Stanza analysis

Stanza 1
In this stanza the hawk is asleep. Unlike other birds it can close its eyes without feeling threatened. The poet is personifying the hawk, giving it human characteristics. It is the speaker in the poem and we see its world through its eyes. In line 4 the hawk refers to " perfect kills" which already underlines its arrogance about its bodily perfection and perfected actions.

Stanza 2
In this stanza the hawk's arrogance is even more accentuated. It views the earth, the trees, the air and the sunrays as being submissive to it. It is as if the high trees were created especially for its convenience; the air is buoyant especially to keep it afloat; the sunrays especially assist it when making a kill by shining in the eyes of its prey. Line 8 is particularly patronizing: the eagle has to inspect the earth' s face every day as if it were a child.

Stanza 3
In this stanza the hawk shows signs of playing God:
" Now I hold Creation in my foot."
Its creation is seen as a very challenging and tedious process:
"It took the whole of Creation/ To produce my foot, my each feather."

Stanza 4
In the fourth stanza the hawk appears to be very possessive: " I kill where I please because it is all mine". It claims that there is no dishonesty ("sophistry")
In its body: it is straightforward in its manner of killing.

Stanza 5
In line 17 the word " allotment" implies an ordered pattern from which there is no escape. Once again it boastfully sees itself as the crown of the creation:
"No arguments assert my right."
Nothing can counter its right to kill and reign over the universe.

Stanza 6
Line 21:
"The sun is behind me", apart from the more physical meaning, also implies that the sun offers moral support to the hawk's actions and, therefore, the hawk has no need to justify its actions by sophisticated arguments. The sun is the source of life on earth while the hawk is the symbolic instrument of death on earth. Once again the hawk displays extreme arrogance by stating that:
"My eye has permitted no change./ I am going to keep it like this."
It is going to see to it that the pattern of death and life will remain changeless and eternal.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for your all effort and sharings.I m a student of Enlish Literature in Turkey, İstanbul..And your analysis on 'Hawk Roosting' made a great benefit for me..thans for all contributors.
student said…
Thanks so much, im from rural nsw, australia and this helped me heaps.

Anonymous said…
Quite helpful



I'v just started GCSE English and this was our first essay, bit harsh, but this helped.
Anonymous said…
a student from Canada and about to write an essay to analysis the poem. Thanks so much for sharing!
Anonymous said…
I am 14 and studying english in the Uk
My prelims are next week and this will really help me to study for them.

SHMRDR said…
It was all good. specially the language analysis. but just have a look at those butterflies .and the whole sentimental design of this page walks on one's nerves.-thanks.
Anonymous said…
Hi Thx a lot! This post helps me in understanding e poem better! :)
Anonymous said…
Thanks so much! This is very detailed. This certainly gives a deeper insight into this poem and it's interesting to see your point of view.

I'm studying in the UK and this is one of the poems that I have to learn for my exam next month. Thanks once again! :)
Anonymous said…
Good one
Anonymous said…
It really helped
Anonymous said…
This helped enormously!!! Just started an English essay for year 10, helped with body paragraphs so much :)

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