Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting”

“Hawk Roosting”, published in 1960,is included in Ted Hughes’s second book, Lupercal. The Hawk in Ted Hughes’ poem “Hawk Roosting” is power personified.The roosting of the hawk signifies its self-assertion. The very first word of the poem “I,” is a sign of the Supreme Ego. The hawk declares that he sits on top of the ‘wood’ that stands for his kingdom. He ‘eyes are closed in oblivion, for at the present, for him, only he exists. His world is limited between his hooked head and hooked feet. He is in ”Inaction’. For action does not define him, rather, he defines action. This is no falsifying dream, a castle bulit in the air, but the omnipresent truth. He dreams about “in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.” Therefore, it is not the basic necessity of killing and eating that concerns him, but the style of it.

Thus the hawk transforms into a metaphor of Supreme arrogance of Man where he is haunted by power. It echoes the Faustian Endeavor disregarding salvation, and Tughlaq ( Girish Karnad’s “Tughlaq”) who ventured to become another God. Aziz in the play “Tughlaq” stands as an aspect of Tughlaq when he asserts:” What’s the point in raping for sheer lust? That’s a mug’s game. First one must have power, the authority to rape! Then everything takes on meaning.” Just as the Hawk avows that the style of preying on the weak is more significant than the act itself.

The trees are indeed convenient as they are high, enabling him to reach new heights. The air’s buoyancy enables him to float in the air, the suns rays lend him rays of hope. These are all metaphors for circumstances that allow the hawk to stay in the position that he is. His being up, it appears to him as if the earth is laid down for his inspection. The poet affirms here how power is only a matter of perspective. The hawk’s narcissistic tendencies are strongly resonated in the lines:

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.

It took the whole of Creation

To produce my foot, my each feather:

Now I hold Creation in my foot

He is Creation personified as he professes, and by his flying up he can revolve all Creation. Creation here refers to God, as the word is capitalized. The line is a typical instance of a metaphysical conceit. As its position is topmost in the food-chain, it asserts triumphantly:” I kill where I please because it is all mine.” Critics have pointed out this as an instance of Fascism. By the term-‘sophistry’, the poet says that the physiology in his body does not abide by any rules. His way of life pertains to the tearing off of all heads; suggesting that he is also above all moral and social laws. He decides the allotment of death. The path of his flight through the bones of the living is direct, there are no two ways about it.It is outrageously stark and true. He does not require any third person’s argument/certificate to claim his right. It existed on its own.

On an ending note, he declares that the sun is behind him. He has eclipsed the sun. To put it further, the sun lives in his shadow. Nothing is constant, as times passes. The composition of the entire universe is susceptible to change within fractions of seconds. However, the Hawk states that nothing has changed here, as his eye has not permitted it to. The word eye denotes both ‘vision’ and ‘insight’. The last line functions as an open challenge to the universal fact that change is inevitable:

“I am going to keep things like this.”

Hughes put forth his take on the poem in a 1971 interview. “Actually what I had in mind was that in this hawk Nature is thinking. Simply Nature. It’s not so simple because maybe Nature is no longer so simple.” Going by what the poet, Ted Hughes had in mind, it might pertain to the destructive aspect of nature (natural disasters) and the instinctive violence of its irrational beings. According to this interpretation, the last line: “I am going to keep things like this,” may read that Nature is going to maintain its original diversity and composition in opposition to man-induced natural calamities. (deforestation, global warming, pollution.etc)

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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1 Comment

  1. Beautiful analysis of Ted Hughes poem
    Hawk Roosting. The mythic use of bird imagery in the poem is at its best to describe the super ego. The poems from the life and songs of Crow are also full of myths. The twoblegends, examination at a womb door and crow’s theology are marvellous.

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