Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes

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Hawk Roosting
By Ted Hughes
Today we are learning to …
• Understand and analyse the poem ‘Hawk
Roosting’
• Born 1930 in Yorkshire , growing up in
the countryside which influenced
much of his poetry – many of his
poems feature animals.
• Served in RAF before studying at
Cambridge University.
• Famously married to American poet
Sylvia Plath and had 2 children. Many
regarded him responsible for her
suicide.
• Spent much time after Plath’s death
editing and publishing her work
rather than his own writing. His final
work was a collection of poems about
his relationship with Plath.
• Was named Poet Laureate in 1984.
• Died 1998 from cancer.
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.
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.
Hawk Roosting
by Ted Hughes
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.
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Ted Hughes made the following comment about the
poem in an interview in 1971:
The poem of mine usually cited for violence is the
one about the 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 totalitarian genocidal dictator. Actually
what I had in mind was that, in this hawk, Nature
is thinking. Simply Nature. It’s not so simple maybe
because Nature is no longer so simple.
Consider the representation of the hawk :
• In what ways is he merely a product of nature?
• What other qualities has Hughes ascribed to him?
• How do YOU see his character?
Hughes was recognised for his affinity with the
natural world, and here he views the world through
the eyes of a hawk. The hawk inhabits a cruel and
brutal world, and many readers have drawn
analogies with human nature.
Interestingly, in the Iraq War, the Americans who
promoted military intervention in Iraq were called
‘hawks’.
Don’t limit your thinking. Poetry is a two-way process and it’s not
ALL about authorial intention: the reader’s interaction and response
is very valid!
Always try to broaden your thinking and analysis, rather than
looking narrowly at a poem. Just make sure you support all your
with evidence and explain your points clearly.
CONFLICT
• Potentially 2 ways of interpreting this poem in
terms of conflict:
1. The hawk represents natural order: the unseeing,
unfeeling law of natural selection which states that
the strongest will survive – and that this is an
inescapable part of human nature as well. Here, the
desire for power and dominance are primal
instincts, essential for survival, but the cause of
conflict in both animal and human worlds.
2. The hawk represents humans: shows the arrogance
that lets them see themselves as the dominant
species on the planet exploiting natural resources
for their benefit; they have assumed godlike powers.
Omnipotent: having universal
power above all others.
The hawk it at the top of
everything where it
believes it belongs –
contrast to the final line.
I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
fully alive in a real
world; no illusions or
deceits, just does what
is necessary.
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
Rhyming couplets: draws
attention to how skilful and
powerful it is?
Repetition: highlights cruel
shape, its appearance is
designed for dominance
STYLE: dramatic monologue
From the hawk’s perception of itself and
the world, the reader understands the
hawk’s nature or character.
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.
Everything is there for the benefit of the
hawk − even the personified earth looks
up to the bird, emphasising its strength
and power
Arrogance an
awareness of the
natural detail and
perfection of the
hawk.
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
Hawk now commands
everything, taking precedence
over God? Has power over
creation?
Repetition of ‘Creation’
draws attention to the hawk
turning into a godlike power
from being the ultimate
product of all God’s work?
To play God, feels
it owns the right
to act as it wishes
– no higher order.
Arrogance - from the
hawk’s perspective, it turns
and controls the world.
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 imagery becomes
increasingly bloody and
brutal .
‘sophistry’ – a
seemingly plausible
argument which is
misleading or false.
The hawk has ultimate authority:
the power of life and death, and to
retain that authority it mercilessly
chooses death every time.
Look at the combination of simple, direct language (e.g. stanza 1 – ‘I sit in the top’,
‘tearing off heads’) with much more sophisticated vocabulary such as that here. This
implies both the simple cruelty, in the straightforward physical words, and the authority,
in the more conceptual presentation of ideas, of the hawk. Language as power?
The allotment of death.
Metaphor:
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:
Perhaps the most significant line of the poem in terms of conflict?
Hawk draws pride and satisfaction from its unchallengeable
position. It will do whatever has to be done to maintain that
position, because it perceives that as its right. Such is the natural
order of things … which may apply to mankind’s conquest of
nations and empires, as much as it does to the hawk…?
Again places the hawk in a
position of pre-eminence,
literally and metaphorically
– high in the sky.
Does this suggest the
hawk casts a shadow?
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.
Hawk takes command of time itself
in this stanza – hubris (lost touch
with reality)?
End-stopped lines:
series of simple
statements
emphasise
authority. No
arguing!
Repetition of personal
pronouns: throughout the
poem emphasises the hawk’s
arrogance and its self-centred
view of the world.
Questions to consider:
1. This monologue focuses only on the hawk’s point
of view, giving its attitude or philosophy, but the
reader doesn’t have to accept this. How is the
hawk’s attitude right? How is the hawk’s attitude
wrong?
2. The poem is very different from other poems in
the cluster, which generally show speakers who are
upset or negatively affected by conflict and seek to
question it, whereas ‘Hawk Roosting’ perhaps tries
to explain it and embrace it?

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