Hawk Roosting

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Hawk Roosting


  • This is a great poem to use with 'Work and Play', as 'Hawk Roosting' describes a very different, much bloodier, side of nature.

Hughes was fascinated by the 'animism' of ancient cultures, especially American Indians. Animism is the belief that spirits live inside all the parts of nature. Hughes poem seems to conjure the fierce spirit of a kind of Hawk God.

In this poem, Hughes writes in the imagined voice of a hawk. The hawk, in other words, is personified. For the sake of simplicity, I will call the hawk 'he'.

The hawk's tone of voice is proud, arrogant, he thinks of himself as master of his world. Indeed, like a God, he has power over life and death. His whole life is spent either being in 'sleep' or hunting for prey. And even when he is asleep he dreams of mastering his hunting and killing technique.

The physical description the hawk gives of itself, 'Between my hooked head and hooked feet', confirms this obsession. Its weapons, the hooks, are the things that matter most to the bird.

The hawk says that he has no 'falsifying dream', nor any 'sophistry' within himself, and that 'no arguments assert' his rights.

Sophistry means false, but clever arguments.

In other words then, unlike humans, the bird is free of rules and regulations, it does not have to justify itself to anything or anyone.

This is a complex poem and there are many possible interpretations.

Some people think that Hughes is:

  • Praising the bird, its single-minded determination and its freedom.
  • Neutral about the bird, and just describing it objectively.
  • Using the bird as a metaphor for the extreme state of mind of a potential human killer.

What do you think? What is your interpretation?

Come back to these questions after going through the Learn-its, and see if your view has changed.


In the following box there is a list of adjectives that can be used to "describe" the bird...

Adjective: Quotes
    [*]'And the earth's face turned upwards for my inspection.' [*]'It took the whole of creation to produce my foot.' [*]'I kill where I please because it is all mine,' [*]'The sun is behind me,' [*]'My eye has permitted no change.'
    [*]'Rehearse perfect kills and eat.' [*]'My manners are the tearing off of heads.' [*]'I kill where I please.'
    [*]'The sun is behind me.' [*]'and the earth's face turned upwards for my inspection.' [*]'My eye has permitted no change.' [*]'Now I hold creation in my foot.'
Intense/ obsessive
    [*]'My manners are the tearing off of heads.' [*]'I kill where I please.' [*]'The one path of my flight is direct/ Through the bones of the living.'
    'The convenience of the high trees.'
    [*]'My manners are the tearing off of heads.' [*]'I kill where I please.'
    [*]'Now I hold creation in my foot.' [*]'My eye has permitted no change.' [*]'The allotment of death.'


Hughes achieves some of his effects in this poem by changing the scale of things. The small hawk imagines itself to be as big as a God:

'The earth's face (is) upward for my inspection.'


'Now I hold Creation in my foot Or fly up and revolve it slowly.'

It is as if the world is only spinning because the hawk's claw turns it looking for its next victim.

This technique of changing scales will also be seen in our next poem, 'Wind'.



The poem is set out in six equal, four line stanzas. Unlike 'Work and Play' there is no development or change in form at the end of the poem.

Why not?

Because the Hawk will not allow change/does not want change. It is happy with the way things are arranged.

The world of the hawk is ordered, neat, efficient, controlled, and the form of the poem matches those qualities.

The lines are fairly short and many end with full stops. For instance, the four statements, of apparent facts, in the last stanza all end with full-stops.

Do the full-stops suggest ends, finality, death and in this poem certainty?

Certainly the factual tone and the end-stopped, full-stopped lines suggest the hawk would not put up with any arguments. The combined effect is menacing.

Hughes personifies a hawk. He describes it as a survivor and a killer. He compares the hawk's freedom to act on instinct with the way we are ruled by thoughts, arguments and regulations.

The hawks' attitude is arrogant; its tone is menacing, confident, absolute, and boastful. The hawk sees itself as like a king, or a god or an executioner.
Hughes's attitude is more difficult to tell. He leaves the poem open for the reader to decide on how to react to this fierce spirit. Could we just laugh at the small hawk's grand deluded view of itself?

Almost every image refers to the hawk's control and confidence. Everything revolves around the hawk. Look at the number of times 'I', 'me' or 'my' is used.
There are lots of short, factual sounding statements in the poem, and a lot of full-stops.
These help to convey the bird's certainty.