Themes of Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting” Poem

This sample of an academic paper on Poem Themes reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

“Hawk Roosting” is one of Ted Hughes’ many poems which describes nature and animal savagery. In this particular work, Hughes details the characteristics of a regal hawk, ruling over its domain. Although it may seem to be a simple descriptive piece, “Hawk Roosting” actually maintains a “duality” throughout each verse. Not only is it a vivid description of a living being, the poem is Ted Hughes’ critique on humanity.

Beneath its surface is a stark reminder of how our weaknesses are degrading us into common animals.

The first verse paints a scene of a hawk resting on the treetops:

“I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed

Inaction, no falsifying dream

What Is The Theme Of

Between my hooked head and hooked feet:

Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

Straight away the poem asserts the dominance of the bird. The words “Top of the wood” suggests the hawk is a predator, high up in the food chain. It is also an animal that lives for hunting as every day it will “rehearse perfect kills and eat” in its dreams. Similarities can be drawn which shows that we are just like the hawk. Humans dominate the world and we constantly invent new ways of simplifying our lives. At the most basic level, we “kill and eat” like all animals do.

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The writer uses this verse to establish the hawk as a symbol of all humanity. Therefore, when he further illustrates the hawk later on, he is actually pointing out our habits and tendencies.

The allegory of the hawk symbolizing humanity continues into the second and third verses:

“… The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray

Are of advantage to me;

And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

It took the whole of Creation

To produce my foot, my each feather:

Now I hold Creation in my foot.”

These verses further develop the idea that the hawk is a supreme creature. It looks down on its realm and controls all the animals. Therefore, it is able to “hold Creation in my foot”. On the other hand, as the hawk actually represents us, the writer is also commenting on mankind. “The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray” correspond to natural resources and how they “are of advantage” to us. Instead of letting the course of nature take over our lives, we control the Earth as it ‘face upward for our inspection’. The phrase “It took the whole of Creation” suggests that humans see themselves as the ultimate species. Overall these two verses emphasize the fact that we are the rulers of the Earth. The world is metaphorically “our oyster”, a small thing that is easily held in our grasp.

As the poem progresses into the fourth verse, the hawk awakes from its stillness and takes flight:

“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 -”

Firstly the writer projects an image of the hawk flying above with a bird’s-eye view as the world revolves. Interestingly, it is the hawk that is doing the “revolving”. All of its dominion merely orbit around it. The hawk also owns its territory so it can “kill where I please”. These first two lines is a link to the last verse which further underlines the hawk’s supremacy. Similarly, we exploit the Earth because we believe it belongs to us. Although we consider ourselves a civilised race, the writer points out that some of our methods are far from graceful. In fact, he describes our way of living as “tearing off heads”. For example, we factory-farm animals for profit and we invade other countries to quench our thirst for fuel. As we become the masters of our planet, we grow insensitive to the fact that our greed is causing us to regress back to savages.

The poem turns even more chilling as it enters the fifth verse:

“The allotment of death.

For the one path of my flight is direct

Through the bones of the living.


Here the hawk is a metaphorical “grim reaper”. Its job is the “allotment of death”. From this verse we also perceive an image of the hawk swooping down on its prey as it flies “through the bones of the living”. The writer describes this as “the one path of my flight that is direct”. He is implying that the only constant element in a hawk’s life is to kill. Just like the hawk, we can allocate death as well because the earth is our domain. During our lifetimes we sacrifice the lives of many other creatures to fulfil our desires. We kill animals for food and we hunt exotic species for commodities. We are not that different from the hawk, after all.

The final verse stresses the permanence of the hawk’s reign:

“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.”

The phrase “the sun is behind me” implies that even the sun is a supporter of the hawk. Here the writer conveys yet another image to us. The sun’s rays are chasing after the hawk as if following a great leader. Nothing can unseat it from power. On the other hand, this verse also criticises the human aversion to change. For example, people still pollute the planet even though they know it can cause climate change and natural disasters. The last three lines highlight this fact. We have not done anything in the past to amend our mistakes – “Nothing has changed since I began.” We are unwilling act now – “My eye has permitted no change.” We will not abandon our methods in the future – “I am going to keep things like this.” This is the heart of Ted Hughes’ criticism. We humans, as the masters of this world, are continuously destroying our planet because we are reluctant to change our wicked ways.

In the end, “Hawk Roosting” is fundamentally an illustration of a magnificent creature. Nevertheless, Hughes masterfully embedded his critique on humanity into the poem. Just like the hawk, we are “predators”. However, our “prey” is nature and its resources. We are no better than cruel savages. “Hawk Roosting” is Hughes’ attempt at making us aware of this fact. Ultimately, his wish is that we preserve a better world for future generations.

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Themes of Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting” Poem. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Themes of Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting” Poem
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