Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes Summary and Analysis
Hawk Roosting appears in the volume of poems entitled Lupercal published in 1960. As is characteristic of the animal poems of Ted Hughes, he touches on the element of violence in the hawk with a slant. The Hawk is described in its typical posture in the first and third stanzas. It seems to have a broad, deep look at the world around, absorbing and analyzing it. The comments of the bird are naturally those of Ted Hughes.
As the poem opens the bird is seated at a high point with its hooded eyes closed. It is inactive, just relaxing calmly. It is not living in a world of dreams, one of unreality, like human beings. Man succeeds only in dreams but the hawk never dreams of achieving its perfect kill. There is no dichotomy between its instinct and thought. Its world is one of real success.
In the second stanza, perched on a point of great height, the bird exults over the advantages of its position. The tall trees are of much help in providing such vantage points. The air is clear and pure at that height and the sun’s rays are also sharp and bright. The hawk proudly observes that the whole world lies open for its glance and implies that it will condescend to inspect the earth, behaving as though it owned the entire globe.
The third stanza describes its posture. Its feet are tightly fixed on the rough bark of the tree. The egotistic bird challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution which asserts that the human being, the Homo Sapien, is the crown of evolution, and claims to be the highest being in the creation of God. All the ability needed for creation is to be found in its feet and feathers. As it considers itself as the apex of creation, it avers that the entire creation is contained in the complicated structure of its foot.
In the fourth stanza, the vain bird asserts its superiority while hunting for prey. From its perched posture, sometimes it flies high up revolving, moving its body slowly, the body which it considers as the crown of creation. It hovers over the earth like a conqueror, like the legitimate owner, to kill whatever, whenever and wherever it likes. It does not care much about the mind. It lives by instinct and despises sophistry, the use of false arguments. The idea of the last line is continued into the next stanza.
The bird avers with callous indifference that its method is merely to tear off the head of its prey. It claims to be the dispenser of death to those animals that fall a prey to its hunger. It makes a beeline to the creature that is to be killed and pushes its beak straight through the prey. It does not stop to consider or argue within itself about the fatal attack. Again none can argue about or question his right to this direct destruction.
The final stanza presents the picture of the bird the bird as the poet saw it, a hawk. The sun is behind him, says the bird. Perhaps it is evening time and the hawk is facing east. It asserts that conditions have been the same since it started life. His position is that of the ruler and he is going to maintain it.
The poet compares the bird with God and also man, a human being. The hawk claims a supremacy over nature which almost equates him with God. But the broader comparison is with man, who is denigrated at each step placing the bird at an advantage.
The bird is in fact a symbol of egotism. It derides man as a dreamer and sometimes as one who is carried away by his mind, that is, his thought, instead of his emotion and instinct. Indirectly Hughes is also attacking the tendency of man to become egoistic claiming superiority over his fellowmen. An apparently ordinary animal poem becomes a deep, thought-provoking piece in the hands of Ted Hughes.
- I sit…colosed- The hawk sits at a great height on a tree with its eyes closed.
- inaction-it is just relaxing with its eyes closed. No falsifying dream-it is not or dreaming. It is only man who dreams of things that are not real. The bird looks down upon man because he dreams. Falsifying dream- dream that is false, not true.
- Between…feet-This is a description of its posture. Its head looks like a hook with its eyes closed. The feet are tightly clamped on the rounded branch. It is resting head to foot and therefore one need not mistake the hawk to be day-dreaming.
- Or in sleep…and eat- As the bird has already asserted that it is not day-dreaming in a world of imagination, it wants to confirm the fact that it never dreams even about practical actions. It never dreams that it has killed its favourite prey and is enjoying its food.
- The convenience…trees-The hawk wonders at the facilities available at the height of the tall tree where it is perched.
6-7. The air’s…me- The air at that point makes the bird feel very light, as though it were floating in the air. The sun’s rays are warmer, sharper and brighter there. The buoyant air and the bright sun are of great advantage. It is able to see everything very clearly.
- And the…inspection-The hawk proudly presumes that the whole world has been made visible there, at the great height, for its benefit, so that it may examine the earth easily.
- My feet…bark-The bird holds the bark of the tree on which it is perched very tightly with its feet to avoid a fall.
Bark-the dry, thick covering of the branch of the tree.
10-11. It took the whole of Creation…feather-The bird is vain and proud claiming to be the highest in the ladder of creation. It questions the Christian concept of creation and Darwin’s theory of evolution in one breath. The hawk asserts that all the skill involved in the entire creation has been spent to produce its foot and each feather. The implication is that it is the crown of creation.
12-13. Now I hold Creation…all slowly-The hawk believes that the entire power of Creation lies in its legs. The feathers are equally powerful and therefore it sometimes uses its wings to fly high above the earth, in the sky, turning them slowly, flying in circles. Whether it perches or flies, it holds in its body the entire power of Creation. It may search for its food from the vantage spot where it is seated or look around, flying slowly’ in the high sky.
- I Kill…mine-As the hawk considers itself as the owner of the whole world, it kills wherever it pleases.
- There is no…body-there is no problem of thinking or discussing or arguing any point because it lives by instinct.
Sophistry- the use of false deceptive arguments.
16-17. My manners…death-Its mode of operation is just violent killing, tearing the head of the prey. Thus it decides the fate of the creatures that fall a prey to its hunger, allots the date of their death.
18-19. For the one path…the living-It follows only one direct path while it flies. It violently pushes itself through the bones of a living creature that is to serve as its food.
- No arguments…right-It does not use any arguments to prove its power over the world.
- The sun…behind me—the time is afternoon and the bird is facing east.
- Nothing has…began-The bird asserts that the world has remained the same ever since it came in. This may be contrasted with the attitude of human beings who keep asserting generation after generation that the world has changed completely. It is not the world that has changed. It is man who thinks, argues and lives by his mind that has brought about conditions for controlling himself and his freedom.
- My eye has…change-the bird has not looked at anything differently as man has done. Consequently the bird does not perceive any changes.
- I am going to keep things like this-The bird does not want any change in the world. It does not want to curb its own freedom. Things as they give it great pleasure. It has complete freedom to do what it pleases, to kill where it pleases and eat what it chooses. This life of total abandon without a care in the world is possible only because it lives by its instinct and not by the mind. So it is going to retain things they are without worrying unnecessarily about changes.