Monday, June 17, 2013

Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes

This is a dramatic monologue in the character of a hawk. Hughes dramatizes the hawk’s thoughts and attitudes to the majesty of creation, creating a character of self-focused, god-like arrogance, of brutality and beauty.
Many nature poems deal with the beauty of nature and God’s power as creator. This poem subverts these expectations. Here, nature is brutal: it ‘kills’ and ‘eats’. What’s slightly disturbing is that the hawk views these as ‘perfect’ and ‘rehearses them’. This almost gives the feel of a psychopath, yet he is only fulfilling his natural function. The repetition of ‘hooked’ from his head to his feet creates a feel of being captured, evoking his sharp, deadly beak and claws. These are the parts that the hawk emphasizes when he describes himself.
The hawk deals in ‘death’. Hughes uses the metaphor of the bird flying direct ‘through the bones of the living’. The uneasy juxtaposition of bones with living creates an unsettling effect, and makes the bird seem almost supernaturally powerful: as if he exists beyond this one moment in time.
The voice of the bird displays god-like arrogance [hubris]. He judges that earth ‘holds itself upwards for my inspection’, as if the world only exists for his benefit. The Hawk frequently uses ‘me’ and ‘my’, which shows a possessive, self-focused streak. He says he holds ‘Creation in my foot’. This is a literal, visual image of the bird in flight and the earth seeming small below, but also a metaphor of power.
Hughes deliberately subverts [turns upside down] traditional nature poems on the majesty of creation. The hawk lists natural features: ‘sun’, ‘air’ and the ‘tree’, which he thinks exist only in as much as they are of ‘advantage to me’. He also says it took ‘the whole of Creation’ to produce his ‘feather’ and ‘foot’: the juxtaposition of something so huge and old, and biblical against a tiny foot/feather, shows how magnificent the bird thinks he is: as if he is the reason creation exists. This is interesting because it twists the traditional anthropocentric world view (i.e. humans are the peak of creation, the whole point of it all), that is set down in Genesis. When he flies up he says he will ‘revolve’ the world slowly - as if he is making it turn.
He gives the gift (‘allotment’) of death, which is an ironic juxtaposition as no one would want to receive this gift. It is as if he’s the god of death. He says he has ‘permitted no change’ and ends with a final, simple declarative statement ‘I am going to keep things like this’. The use of ‘am’ stresses his power. He doesn’t say ‘will’ or ‘might’; he’s certain.

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