The “Hawk Roosting” revolves around one key idea, control. Control is evident through various aspects of the poem and is a key factor of the theme. The theme of this piece being, although we stem from Creation, we are in control of our lives to a great extent due to our divine right of dominance. This idea is symbolized through the literal theme of the hawk’s control over life; “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”(lines 10-12). The irony of this stanza alone is sufficient enough to determine theme. The hawk’s foot, that took all of Creation to make, is locked upon a tree bark that is also made by Creation. Thus although both the tree and hawk are made by the same forces, the hawk still has control over the tree’s life by putting its foot on the tree’s bark. This theme can be taken to another level and be applied to man, who is symbolized by the powerful, superior hawk. Man is the dominant creation on land and exerts its power and control over other life forms, much like the hawk. Through various stylistic devices, Hughes successfully manages to create an excellent understanding of the theme.
Appointing the hawk as the speaker of the poem has a tremendous impact on effectively displaying theme. Hawks are known to be powerful, majestic, dignified, and superior life forms. Man is also known to have these features; therefore it is easy to draw a parallel between the two. There is such a great similarity between the two to the extent that the reader might think the speaker is a man if not for the title of the poem. Thus by creating such a strong parallel, Hughes effectively takes his theme onto a deeper, more metaphorical level. A significant salient feature of this poem is the use of first person point of view. By using first person point of view Hughes emphasizes the control and power of the hawk; “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” (line 14). The use of personal pronouns such as “I” has such a drastic effect on displaying power and control. The repetition of the personal pronouns in this particular line merely reiterates the hawk’s power and control. If Hughes chose to write in third person point of view, the theme would not have been as clearly exhibited as it is while using first person point of view; “My eye has permitted no change. I am going to keep things like this.” (lines 23-24). By starting these two lines with personal pronouns, Hughes is reiterating the control of the hawk over life. First person point of view makes the reader feel as if the hawk is talking directly to him/her, and the frequent use of pronouns merely adds an extensive amount of control and power to the poem.
“Hawk Roosting” has a very specific and clear order to it. It is composed of six four-line stanzas made up of relatively short sentences. The purpose of having an identical number of lines in each of the stanzas is to strengthen the theme; this form is merely a display of control. Since the poem is written in first person point of view in the voice of the hawk, the reader feels as if he is being talked to by the hawk. Thus by having and orderly and repetitive form, the reader feels as if the hawk is even controlling the poem. There is an element of divine right in the poem (5th stanza), and the fact that there is a specific number of lines per stanza soothes the reader and persuades him into accepting the divine right of the hawk to rule. The control and divine right exhibited through the structure of the poem emphasize the last line of the poem, “I am going to keep things like this”; only the hawk has the power and right to change things. Short sentences were used throughout the poem in order to present bold statements; bold statements are a sign of power. Punctuation plays a key role in this poem. Firstly, some of the periods are used to make the sentences bold, ‘The sun is behind me.” (line 21). This line alone will not have the same effect as the line with a period at the end due to the boldness accompanied with the period. Another important function of the punctuation is to indicate caesural pauses. Caesural pauses are used throughout the poem to emphasize the hawk’s control. “I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed” (line 1). The comma in this line empathizes the personal pronouns, clearly exhibiting the extent of the hawk’s control. The caesural pauses also give the reader time to digest the thought and the opportunity to recognize the significance of the line; “I kill where I please because it is all mine.” (line 15). The period at the end of the line indicates a caesural pause and enables the reader to digest the thought at hand. Thus the reader comes to a clear understanding of the complete and utter control of the hawk.
There are several ideas and messages hidden in this poem circulating around the theme. Firstly, the idea that the hawk has a divine right to be in control is exhibited in the fifth stanza. Choice of words such as allotment, meaning ration, imply that it is predestined for the hawk to kill. Thus it his divine right to do so. “For the one path of my flight is direct through the bones of the living.” (lines 19-20). The phrase path of my flight adds a spirituality to the poem implying the divine right and specific duty the hawk has to fulfill. Another idea in this poem is that things were meant to suit the hawk; “The convenience of the high trees! The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray are of advantage to me:” (lines 5-7). The word convenience strongly suggests that things were made to suit the hawk, implying that Creation went out of its way to make the hawk’s duty within reach. These two ideas further strengthen the parallel between the hawk and man, therefore strengthening understanding of theme. Man has divine right over other creation to rule on land, and Creation did create the world for man.
The tone of the speaker is a very proud one. The pride in the hawk’s tone strengthens the idea of him being a superior animal and his power; “The sun is behind me.” (line 21). The reader senses a great deal of pride from the hawk, because he is saying that the sun, one of the most magnificent creations, is behind him. The sun that provides all living organisms with warmth is beneath the hawk. Through lines 21 and 9, the reader recognizes a pattern of the hawk belittling other forms of creation. As for the atmosphere, it is a very peaceful and calming one. The idea of divine right implied through this poem makes the reader believe that everything is as it should be, and that the hawk has a predestined control over life. Even though there is talk about killing and death (line 15), the reader still feels at ease, because of the divine right of the hawk’s control. The last line, “I’m going to keep things like this”, has a significant calming effect on the reader, because of man’s constant fear of change. Hughes decided to take man’s fear of change to his advantage and set a calming tone.
Hughes deliberately chose to not use a lot of description and imagery in this poem. There is barely any imagery whatsoever, and the two main images are very bluntly stated. “I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed” exhibits an image of a hawk sitting at a great height. Since height symbolizes control, the image is used to capture the idea of control. Another image, “the sun is behind me”, displays an image of a hawk with creation behind him. This image also strengthens the theme and control of the hawk. These images represent ideas more than they represent actual pictures. Hughes deliberately excluded extensive imagery, because if the images displayed the beauty of nature, or other creation, it would contradict the superiority of the hawk. Nature is work of the Creator, and this poem is told to the reader through the voice of a proud hawk. There are no metaphors or similes either, because that would belittle the hawk and take away from his proud tone.
Hughes carefully chose the words used in the poem in order to assert the control of the hawk. First of all, many words were used to make it seem as if the hawk’s control was matter of fact. Words such as buoyancy and allotment imply that there is a scientific reasoning for his control. ‘Creation’ was used deliberately instead of God, in order for Hughes to exclude religion from the poem and include spirituality. The use of the word ‘foot’ is a clear example of the hawk’s pride. It is very belittling for Creation to be held in a foot; Hughes could have chosen any another body part, but he chose foot because it is belittling.
There is no specific rhyme scheme, or obvious sound devices such as alliteration. Hughes did this in order for the hawk’s control to seem very matter of fact and not fabricate as a result of the hawk’s pride. Since it is through first person point of view, if there was a rhyming scheme, all the reader would picture was a proud hawk.
By creating a proud hawk that believes it is his divine right to be in control Hughes draws the parallel line between the speaker of the poem an man. Through other stylistic approaches such as diction, form, absence of imagery, etc., Hughes manages to create a solid understanding of the theme.Samar Al Ansari 12 IB