In Hawk Roosting Ted Hughes bestows on his hawk the gift of language and then imagines the outcome of such a gift in this dramatic monologue. The hawk’s words create such a compelling world that the reader really believes the poetic impersonation of Hughes as he closes his eyes and imaginatively steps into the hawk’s mind where we discover a landscape which vividly explores the hawk’s interiority and his love of power. Even when the hawk is being still and reflective, his introspection reveals his natural predilection for violence.
For the world is submissive to the hawk. He filters the earth through his certainty that it serves as an ‘allotment of death’; dedicated to fulfilling his needs. The hawk’s power seems(to him) without limits and this monologue feels quietly terrifying to listen to. ‘I kill where I please…‘ There is a nonchalance to the hawk’s declaration which unnerves us as we read his monologue and encounter his thoughts. The hawk loves to ‘rehearse perfect kills‘ rather like some super athlete of the air. The hawk deems nothing else worthy of his attention, of his time. Ironically, killing is his life. Thoughts of death sustain him, enliven him!
From the opening line we recognise that the hawk regards himself as a deity of the air,‘I sit in the top of the wood...’ The hawk seems a godlike assassin, and all the images in the poem, reinforce this certainty. Look how easily we can replace ‘world‘ with ‘wood‘ at the start of the poem. I even imagine Hughes’ hawk as a deadly fallen angel, a Lucifer of the skies, bent on ‘ tearing off heads’ as he falls down, out of the sun and destroys his victims. Brutality amuses him, perhaps.
I have taught this poem many times and very recently, worked on the poem with pre-GCSE students too. They all loved the poem, probably because it is so vivid with imagery and the voice of the hawk is so unapologetic and convinced of his own brilliance. It is impossible o read the poem aloud and not discern the self-assured, even arrogant tone of the narrator. We hear his power.
Thus, in Hughes’ poem, the hawk is King of his own castle, and not unlike the terrifying Edmund Hooper in Susan Hill’s novel, I’m the King of the Castle, his power is associated with his willingness to extinguish all ‘ enemies’. Hughes’ hawk is a perfect predator. And unlike human predators, the hawk kills to feed himself and stay alive. However, perhaps rather like certain human killers, the hawk clearly relishes his ability to take away life. He derives pleasure from the perfect kill. ‘My manners are tearing off heads...’
There is a heavily ironic humour in the thoughts of the hawk. Even when he is resting, he contemplates his killings. The hawk’s sole vocation is to bestow death on the more vulnerable creatures who are his natural prey. In terms of evolution, he is perfectly formed. His ‘eye’ (‘I’) ‘has permitted no change.’ The Hawks are in charge. He governs his own territory. He admires his own perfection, like the brutal predator he is.
It is tempting to liken the hawk to an autocrat, some atrocious dictator perhaps. Yet that is to do the poem a disservice. The hawk is a natural killer, but he kills to eat. He takes pleasure in his own evolutionary brilliance and that is why the last line complacently summarises his predicament: ‘I am going to keep things like this.‘
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.
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.
How to write a good essay!
Bookshelf 2.0 developed by revood.com