Below, you’ll find an analysis of the poem Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes; which is about a predatory bird of the hawk species. In the poem, Hawk’s tone effectively conveys the major themes of the poem: violence, power and conquest; however, the poet suggests that even in the privacy of its thoughts, its predatory instincts rule.
Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes
‘I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.’
(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright restrictions)
- Roosting – sleeping or resting on a branch, perch or roost
- Buoyancy – an upward force exerted on a body by a fluid; display fast recovery from discouragement: resilience
- Inaction – idleness
- Convenience – when something is suitable and beneficial
- Falsifying – to alter facts with the aim of deceiving or misleading; to disapprove a theory or statement
- Sophistry – a clever but false argument
- Allotment – give out a share or portion
I sit at the height of forest, with my eyes shut. Utterly still, no deceiving dream, between my rounded head and curved feet: or in sleep I practise perfectly hunting prey for meals.
The benefits of high trees! The bounciness of the air and the beams from the sun support my quest and mission: And the earth pays respect to me by turning its face upwards to face mine.
My limbs are held upon the rough bark of the tree. It took the entire Universe to form my feet and feathers. My foot is now the keeper of all of Creation,
or soar high, and turn the world round slowly at my will – I eat what I desire, for all is mine. There is no deceit in me, my habits are sophisticated and draw attention –
Death obeys my commands and kills many living beings. My flight plan affects the health of mortals. No school of thought has ever defined who I am.
The sun is setting. Nothing has changed since I began. My eye has not allowed anything to change. I will ensure that things remain as they are.
Hughes employs the technique of personification throughout this poem, to bring his speaker to life. The speaker is a figure whose name is simply ‘Hawk’, he is a predatory bird of the hawk species. His speech inspires the feeling that we are all one with the universe and nature: Hawk removes the sense of separation from other creatures that people feel as he adopts a godlike persona, fully in control of the life, death and behaviour of the world that he surveys. He confesses that like us, he has the same needs for dominance, control, and achievement – and he is driven by similar urges, such as the need to eat or sleep. Hawk’s tone effectively conveys the major themes of the poem: violence, power and conquest.
The monologue of forceful words portrays the real character of a hawk well. The poet suggests that even in the privacy of its thoughts, its predatory instincts rule. The hawk cares a little about its victims: it gives the impression that brutality is a natural cycle, and itself plays the primary role in making this cycle unfold. Hawk seems ignorant of the fact that owls may devour them in the dead of the night, or that it is eagles who truly rule the sky – in this poem, he reigns supreme.
Powerful visual imagery such as ‘the air’s buoyancy’, ‘the sun’s ray’ and ‘rough bark’ in the poem helps the reader to reflect on Hawk’s mission on earth. The opening line: “I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.” further establishes the setting through a clear, simple image of the predator sitting there, planning his kills and domination.
Possessive pronouns: “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” – The possessive language reveals the speaker as an agile, patient and merciless predator.
Foreshadowing – In the first stanza Hughes writes: ‘in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat’. This builds the reader’s anticipation of real action from the predatory killing machine, as we realise that even in a state of rest he is plotting violence and destruction. By assuming the reader of his infallibility, Hawk warns the reader to beware of the dangers lurking in the real world.
Tone – The speaker is unremorseful about his conduct. Hawk seems to suggest that, unlike the human race, it is free from fear, poverty, and worries; it does not suffer from a weak conscience or from low self-esteem. Absurdly, the hawk claims to control the fate of the Universe itself. This makes the tone of the poem grotesque and rather terrifying.
Hyperbole – The speaker uses hyperbole to claim his position at the highest echelon of Creation as if he is a god himself. For instance, Hawk says: ‘It took the whole of Creation / To produce my foot, my each feather.’ He remains obstinate to the very end that he is a highly decorated figure at the centre of Creation, and that now he has been made, it is he who is the one in charge: ‘Now I hold Creation in my foot’.