Analysis of the Poem "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes

Updated on January 8, 2020
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes | Source

Ted Hughes And A Summary of Hawk Roosting

Hawk Roosting is a poem that puts the reader into the imagined mind of a hawk about to rest up for the day. It's a monologue of a raptor given the powers of human thinking, thus personified.

It is a typical Ted Hughes animal poem, being unsentimental and unromantic. The poet concentrates on the dominance of the hawk as it sits in the wood reflecting on its raison d'etre, what it is and what it does.

Being at the top of the food chain this bird's instinct is to hunt down quarry; it lives by the deaths of other creatures; it kills in order to survive. It has no enemies except perhaps for humans so it does not fear life as other creatures further down the chain fear it.

Inspired by the rawness of the natural world, the speaker does not shy from explicit description. Some lines in the poem cause controversy because of their direct depiction of the hawk's instinctive behaviour.

Some commentators have remarked on the violence within. Ted Hughes had this to say:

'The poem of mine usually cited for violence is Hawk Roosting, this drowsy hawk sitting in a wood and talking to itself. That bird is accused of being a fascist, the symbol of some horrible genocidal dictator. Actually what I had in mind was that in this hawk Nature was thinking. Simply Nature.'

  • So there is this tension set up in the poem between what is instinctive, what can be observed in the natural world by anyone, and the mindset of the hawk itself, given human characteristics. Objective versus subjective. Biological versus political.

Ted Hughes first published Hawk Roosting in 1960 in the book Lupercal and it has been a popular poem since that time, appearing in many anthologies and on many school and college curricula.

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.

Analysis of Hawk Roosting - Stanza by Stanza

Hawk Roosting is a poem that creates a special tension between the natural world and the human world, one that Ted Hughes explored a great deal in his animal poems.

  • This particular work relies on personification - the bird is speaking to itself, like a human - describing violent scenes, claiming domination, which means that the reader has to wrestle with ideas that go beyond the animal kingdom and into the realm of the human and associated psychological and political issues.

Some critics see in the ruthless behaviour of the hawk for instance, a despot or dictator, a figure that cares only about power, a symbol of the fascist. Ted Hughes never intended this to be the case but the way the poem is worded, detailing explicit violence and arrogant god-like thoughts, the reader can't help but entertain the idea.

The hawk, roosting in the top of a tree in a wood, is given a voice that is human and the ensuing monologue is an attempt to get right into the soul of the raptor and understand just what hawk essence is.

Using single sentences, lots of end stops (full stops), some enjambment and repetition, the stanzas are tightly controlled but given a sense of freedom by lack of rhyme and plodding beats.

Stanza 1

The first line is pure innocence. Here is the hawk settling down for a night's sleep at roosting time. The position he holds is secure - at the top of the wood, overseeing all. One thing for certain, this hawk has a mind of its own. It can think, like a human.

The second line gets the reader thinking too. That long four syllable word falsifying has repercussions. At this early stage there is no context for this word, which means to mislead, but it points toward comparison with humans, who are prone to misleading one another. This bird is pure raptor, can't be anything else.

Enjambment leads to line three and the repeated hooked just to emphasise that this hawk is physically impressive and sharp. And those hooked features might be called into action if the hawk falls asleep. Subconscious perfection of future hunts and kills.

Stanza 2

This hawk has it all worked out, from tree to earth, his physicality suits. Being high up means that there is an overview, a natural domination. The air's buoyancy (upward force) and warmth are there to be taken advantage of. Even the earth is facing the right way so close inspection comes as a given.

Stanza 3

Focus on the feet again as they close tight around the bark on the tree. Note the first lines of five of the stanzas are complete within themselves. End stopped. This means certainty and gives immediate control.

The theme of mastery continues, this time introducing the idea of the whole of Creation being within the grasp of this extremely dominant figure.

  • Lines 10 - 12 are a focal point in the poem for they suggest that Creation itself was involved in the making of this hawk and that now, the roles are reversed so to speak. It's the hawk that is holding Creation, becoming the master of all.
  • The question has to be asked: Is this the Creation of a Creator or the Creation of Evolution, where the fittest only survive?

Analysis of Hawk Roosting - Stanza by Stanza

Stanza 4

The perspective changes as the hawk continues its monologue, which is not a dream as we know it, but a live commentary.

Now the hawk is flying, watching the earth revolve as it makes its way up and up in readiness for a kill. That all important four letter word that first popped up in the opening stanza is here again - kill - I kill - that act which is so common and normal in the predator's world yet is so shocking and hard to handle in the human world.

This is killing with impunity. The hawk has to hunt, it knows no other way and in the poem this fact is expressed with a certain coldness. The language is spare yet full of arrogance and fierceness. Everything belongs to the hawk when it is up in the air and ready to kill; there is no deception, no going back. Heads are torn off. Simple.

Stanza 5

The hawk deals out appropriate deaths, that is the purpose of the unwavering path when it is about to strike 'through the bones', a rather terrifying yet effective phrase.

There are no doubts or questions or debate or opinion one way or the other. Fact is fact; it's the whole thing. Nothing can get in the way of the hawk's instinctive actions. It kills without malice; the bird world's permissions are non-existent; environmental guidelines do not apply.

Stanza 6

All a hawk needs is the sun. Right now the sun is setting. In the mind of the hawk nothing has changed, nothing ever will change. As long as the hawk has an eye, the all-seeing eye, its will to remain the same shall persist.

This last stanza sums up the hawk's attitude to life and death. In one sense it is a pure ego that is speaking - undiluted, pure, true to itself.

Having given the hawk a human voice Ted Hughes brings the raptor into the world of homo sapiens, that most developed of animals, the most sophisticated, able to consciously decide between the moral and the immoral.

In some ways the hawk becomes a mirror - reading this poem does make the reader think about life and death, power, morals, the relationship humans should have or want with, the natural world.

What force compels the hawk? Evolution? A Creator? How does the personification change the way we think about this raptor, master of its own world, top predator?

Hawk Roosting - Syntax And Language

Hawk Roosting is a free verse poem of 6 stanzas, all quatrains. There is no set rhyme scheme and the metre (meter in American English) varies from line to line. On the page it appears formal, tight, restrained - perhaps reflecting the balanced control of the hawk.


Syntax is the way clauses, punctuation, grammar and sentences are put together and in this poem it is quite orthodox. There are no strange eccentricities, no odd line breaks or grammatical quirks.

It gets the business of building a poem done, just as the hawk gets the business of living done - through ruthless control and efficiency.

Note the way many lines are end stopped, again reinforcing the idea of strictness and straightforward action.


Repetition and particular use of vocabulary help underline this poem's powerful message. For example, in the first stanza the word hooked appears twice, so giving the feel of practicality and savage function. Raptors have incredibly sharp beaks (bills) and claws (talons) that absolutely get the job done.

And also in the fourth line the phrase perfect kills and eat give the reader further food for thought with regards to what this bird is all about. The verb to kill occurs again in stanza four.

The idea that the hawk is invincible and made for one purpose gradually strengthens. Here is a bird in complete control, holding even Creation in its foot, pleasing itself as to whether to kill or not.

  • Note the build up of related words: hooked/locked/rough/kill/tearing off/death/bones which suggest physicality, and the contrasting abstract phrases: no falsifying dream/in sleep rehearse/no sophistry/through the bones/No arguments assert.
  • This creates another set of tensions based upon the duality of the physical world the hawk inhabits and the mental construct imagined by the poet.

The use of words such as falsifying and sophistry (deception) help sharpen the distinction between the purely animal and the human.


Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005

The Poetry Handbook, John Lennard, OUP,2005

© 2018 Andrew Spacey


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • chef-de-jour profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Spacey 

      2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Appreciate the visit Ann.Ted Hughes has such keen insights poetically into the natural world.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Great analysis, Andrew. I admire Ted Highes and I love birds of prey; they fascinate me. So this poem is an interesting one for me.

      Thanks for the education!



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)