Short Analysis of Ted Hughes’ Hawk Roosting

Hawk Roosting poem is written in the form of a monologue or a soliloquy. The speaker here is a hawk(which is a bird of prey, attacking smaller birds and eating them to feed himself). The hawk here is to be imagined as speaking and expressing his ideas about himself and the universe of which he is a denizen. The hawk speaks with a sense of authority, and with the fullest possible confidence in himself. Indeed, we feel amazed by his egoism and his self-centredness. His egoism is boundless and infinite. This egoism finds expression in the following lines:

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

No arguments assert my right.

Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

The hawk belongs to the animal world; and this poem, therefore, belongs to the category of Hughes’s animal poems. (The word “animal” in this context includes birds).

Violence and Brutality

Even more striking than the hawk’s egoism and his sense of power, is the imagery of violence and brutality in this poem. The hawk is proud of his power to kill, and here he reminds us of the pike in another poem by Hughes. All the fierceness and the brutality of the hawk have been summed up in a few lines such as the following: “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” The hawk’s whole business in life is “to tear off heads.” His whole concern is to distribute death, and he never wavers in carrying out this task because he knows only one path, and that is the path leading him directly through the bones of the living creatures. Thus Hawk Roosting is one of those poems which show Hughes’ interest in the violence and brutality which are the rule, not the exception, in the world of Nature.

Some critics have called this interest in violence and brutality an obsession, but that is a wrong way of looking at these poems. Violence and brutality are just one of the many themes in the poetry of Hughes, and there is nothing morbid or inhuman about Hughes’ interest in this aspect of the universe.

An Amusing Poem

Hawk Roosting is an amusing poem. Hughes here seems to be ridiculing the hawk’s false sense of power. Indeed we feel greatly amused when we read the egoistical lines in which the hawk speaks of the comfort of his nest on the high trees, ”the air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray,” and of his feet and feathers. “It took the whole of Creation/To produce my foot, my every feather,” says the hawk. And yet it is possible that Hughes is not laughing at the hawk’s sense of power but clarifying it. Hughes may be seriously expressing the hawk’s exultation over his ferocity. In any case, Hughes has here contributed to the bird, hawk a capacity to think and to argue a case even though the hawk’s arguments are fallacious because of his extremely narrow outlook. There may be “no sophistry in his body,” as he says; but there certainly is sophistry in his reasoning.

An Extremely Simple Poem

Hawk Roosting is one of Hughes’s simplest poems. Its thought content is simple, and its language is simple too. Indeed, this is one poem that offers no difficulties at all even to the uninitiated reader. The words are simple, and they have simply been arranged. There is no complexity, and no intricacy, in the thought; in the arrangements of the words or in the syntax. Thus, there is nothing at all to bewilder or to puzzle us in this poem.

Hughes’s Own Comment

Hughes’s own remarks about this poem are very illuminating. He said that this poem had generally been regarded by critics as one dealing with the theme of violence. Critics thought that Hughes had written this poem to denounce fascism or dictatorship in certain countries. The hawk, sitting in his nest on a tree and talking to himself was regarded as a symbol of some horrible totalitarian dictator bent upon destroying an enemy race of people. Hughes said that this approach to his poem about the hawk was entirely wrong. He further said that this poem only represented Nature as thinking. He meant the hawk in this poem to be a representative of Nature as a whole. The hawk in this poem is not Hitler, but just Nature talking to herself. In other words, Hughes merely wanted to depict the cruelty and the bloodthirstiness which prevail in Nature.

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