In Nutshell: The poem, which is adapted from Hughes's second collection, Lupercal, gives a hawk the ability to speak and think, enabling the reader to picture what it would be like to possess the instincts, attitudes, and behaviors of such a creature. The hawk has an aura of power as it surveys the landscape from above the trees, as if everything were in its rightful place. The poem makes a point of emphasizing how violence, at least in the hawk's world, is not a moral sin but rather a characteristic of the natural universe. One of several poems in which Hughes investigates the animal kingdom is "Hawk Roosting."
Hawk Roosting Original Text
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.
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
Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -
The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:
The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.
I, a hawk, am sitting on top of the jungle, my eyes closed. Between the curled beak of my skull and the curved talons of my feet, I am holding no false dreams, and I am doing nothing. I have dreams during the night of expertly murdering my target and eating them.
The trees fit my personality so perfectly! The sun's light and the air I'm floating on seem ideally suited to my way of existence, and the earth is oriented so I can look up at the sky to study it.
I have a firm hold on the branch with my feet. My foot and each and every feather were made over the course of millions of years. When I capture other works of Creation, I often hold them in my foot.
Other times, as I slowly ascend, I soar high into the sky, spinning the world around me. Because the world is mine, I murder whenever and wherever I like. My civility is tearing the heads off my prey, thus I have no use for brilliant but fallacious arguments.
Death is delivered in this manner. And my one real path leads me directly through life while killing others. I don't require rational arguments for what I do.
It has always been this way for me as I soar between the earth and the sun. Nothing has changed because of my sight. I'll always keep items like this.
Analysis in Bullets
- Ted Hughes once said:
'The poem of mine usually cited for violence is Hawk Roosting, this drowsy hawk sitting in a wood and talking to itself. That bird is accused of being a fascist, the symbol of some horrible genocidal dictator. Actually what I had in mind was that in this hawk Nature was thinking. Simply Nature.'
- In the poem, Hawk rejects sophistry and rejects use of reason to justify his natural design to kill.
- In one way one could read the poem as justification of Social Darwinism, since human-like hawk is symbolising in its monologue the violence induced by so-called "survival of the fittest".
- Multiple interpretations are possible: for example, the hawk can be taken as a representation of inhumanity; it can be analysed terms of representation of human vices such as haughtiness, destructiveness, conceit and egotism, fixation with power, and tyranny.
- We can observe that the poem is an implied satire on a tyrant that the bird represents since there is a clear projection of human qualities onto the bird.
- Hawk conveys assurance in his speech. It can be taken as a representation of nature's ferocious might. Thus, it represents a strong, merciless, lethal physical force that is unsupported by any sort of morality and devoid of all compassion, humanity, or humility.
- Another interpretations: by insinuating that this is completely mistaken pride or "hubris," the poet makes fun of it. The human life's civilized ideals, which may have given it significance, have been lost in this process. Modern men are motivated by irrational impulsiveness and unmet obsession.
In my opinion, whether you see "mutual aid" in animals and humans as prominent feature as Kroporkin did or predatory inclination as prominent as Herbert Spencer examined, it defines you in return. Social Darwinism justified racism, colonialism, laissez-faire capitalism (which he called natural mechanism of getting society rid of unfit members).
Hawk Roosting was initially published by Ted Hughes in 1960's Lupercal, and it has since become a well-known poem that is frequently taught in high schools and colleges and can be found in numerous anthologies.
Attend our free course on Modern Poetry Syllabus
Important Note: You can share your interpretation and join the conversation below!