Saturday, 29 September 2012

Hawk Roosting, by Ted Hughes

Hawk Roosting

by Ted Hughes

The hawk, a bird of prey, is seen in Ted Hughes' poem “Hawk Roosting” resting on a branch of a tree. The poem is written in the first person as though the hawk is speaking, so it is a dramatic monologue. The hawk seems to see himself as the centre of the universe and creates an impression of arrogance, as though the world were made for him and his purposes.

In the first stanza Hughes introduces the hawk “in the top of the wood.” This high position is an indication of superiority. The bird is very still and its eyes are closed. Hughes uses alliteration of the “k” sound several times in the poem, creating a harsh feeling. The sound exists in the word “hawk” itself, of course, and there are further instances of it in line 3 where “hooked” is repeated. In the fourth line “kills” continues the alliteration. This line describes the hawk imagining killing and eating its prey even while it is asleep. A picture of ruthlessness begins to build up. Interestingly, lines 3 and 4 are the only lines in the poem that rhyme.

The second stanza opens with the exclamation “The convenience of the high trees!” The hawk again refers to its high altitude, and the word “convenience” conveys the idea that its position is an ideal one. The bird can look down on the world below, and the impression is that the wood has been created to suit its needs. Hughes links lines 6 and 7 with enjambment to extend the idea that the hawk can fly with ease and make use of the light from the sun. They are “of advantage to me,” once again emphasising the fact that the hawk considers nature to have been created for its own purposes.
The second stanza closes with the hawk's comment that, from the top of the tree, it can see “the earth's face” looking up and easily observe the details. Everything is just right for this bird of prey.

In the opening line of the third stanza, Hughes again uses alliteration with the hard “k” sound in “locked” and “bark.” The hawk has a tight hold upon the branch, whose surface is “rough.” Hughes uses enjambment once more to link lines 10 and 11, describing how features of the hawk's body were created. The word “Creation” is capitalised, thus making it synonymous with God. The fact that the hawk considers that it took “the whole of Creation” to make its feet and feathers gives the bird an arrogant air. In the final line of this stanza, the hawk sees that positions are now reversed; it holds Creation in one small foot, therefore having become all powerful.

The end of the third stanza and the beginning of the fourth are linked by enjambment, as the hawk shows that it is free to “fly up” and circle the world below at its leisure. Line 14 is an extremely telling one: “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” The hawk considers that it has supreme power and owns the whole earth that it can see below. Its ruthlessness is apparent again in lines 15 and 16, as the hawk says it possesses no “sophistry” or subtle reasoning; it kills by “tearing off heads.” There is no attempt to soften the blow of its hunting methods.

The fifth stanza continues the image of the hawk hunting with the brief phrase “The allotment of death.” The hawk chooses what it kills, and it is brutal. Enjambment again links lines 18 and 19, describing how the hawk's passage takes it “Through the bones of the living.” The stanza closes with the statement “No arguments assert my right,” giving the impression that the hawk's methods of killing are unquestionable. It does not need to justify its actions.

The four lines of the sixth and final stanza are all end stopped, and read as concise, matter-of-fact sentences. They emphasise the idea that what the hawk says goes and cannot be contested. The hawk states “Nothing has changed,” but this is no accident. The bird considers, in the penultimate line of the poem, that it has not allowed anything to change. The poem closes with the line “I am going to keep things like that,” asserting the hawk's power over the whole of nature.
Hughes appears to be using the hawk in this poem as a symbol for power. A hawk would of course act instinctively and kill for the purposes of survival. The implications of “Hawk Roosting” are therefore that the poem is an extended metaphor for the behaviour of a tyrant or power-seeking ruler. Such a person would, as the hawk is in this poem, be self-centred and arrogant. An authoritarian despot would not allow himself or his methods to be questioned, and would see the world around him as being designed to suit his purposes. Ted Hughes, in “Hawk Roosting,” paints a picture of a creature that is ruthless and self-involved, showing how a lust for power can take over a being and end in brutality.

Here is the text of the poem:

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and my 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 that.

Originally published on


  1. I will keep your new article. I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks for sharing.


  2. hello there wonderful piece of work I am actually working on this poem and I like to ask how would you describe the atmosphere?