(Poem #42) Hawk Roosting
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.
Hughes published a number of animal poems during his long and distinguished literary career; these were often (in fact, almost always) harsh and vigorous, painting a picture of Nature 'red in tooth and claw' - violent, grim, and unsentimental, but at the same time remorselessly true to itself. In today's poem, Hughes uses the thought-processes of the hawk as a metaphor for the mind of every megalomaniac who ever lived - the poem resonates with dictatorial phrases and turns of expression. The hawk lives according to the rules of its own morality ('No arguments assert my right'), in a world where might is right. 'I kill where I please because it is all mine' - violent, yes, but also chillingly insightful. The massive egotism running through the poem is, again, telling in its implications for the human world. Yet the unstated theme lying underneath the hawk's soliloquy is this - that the hawk is a product of Nature; its 'personality' is (ultimately) dictated by Nature, and hence, somehow, proper to itself. On the other hand, for human beings, untrammelled power is (Hughes seems to say) twisted and sick, leading only to tyranny and oppression. A final note: the stark contrast between the imperial majesty of Tennyson's eagle and the vicious tyranny of Hughes' hawk is striking - using virtually the same basic image, the two poets paint drastically differing pictures which are, nonetheless, no less true for being worlds apart in their truth. thomas. PS. Hughes died last year at the age of 68, soon after publishing 'The Birthday Letters', a deeply moving recollection of his troubled marriage with the equally celebrated poet Sylvia Plath (who committed suicide). His successor as Poet Laureate has not yet been announced. PPS. A minor milestone: the Minstrels reaches its 42nd poem!