The hawk, which is the main focus or center of Ted Hughes’s Hawk Roosting, embodies both characteristics of man and nature, demonstrating how the two intertwine. Thus, there is a clear theme of man versus nature. In terms of its characteristics of man, or anthropomorphic features, the hawk symbolizes more of the negative behavior of man, such as power and how too much of it results in a lack of reasoning, ignorance and arrogance. With respects to its embodiment of nature, that hawk represents nature’s voice and thoughts.
The fact that the poem is narrated from a bird itself is evidence of the poet’s use of anthropomorphism and personification, as a hawk is non-human and cannot narrate. The word choices of “manners”, “feet” and “arguments” are human components, which further draws the link between the hawk and man. The opening line of the poem itself sets the theme, as the hawk appears to be resting (“roosting”) and is at a high position, “the top of the wood”. Hughes uses words such as “convenience”, “allotment” and “buoyancy”, which represent the ease of savagery and the hawk’s (man’s) self-centered attitude, which comes with the power that it personifies.
A clear connection to humanity can be demonstrated by dictatorship, particularly fascism. Often dictators are “roosting” when they come to their position of ultimate power and superiority, as well as biting the hands that feed them. In the poem, this abuse of power is especially evident in the third stanza. This demonstrates the separation from God (“Creation”) and nature, as well as how man (dictators) often forget how they got to their position of power, which is mostly because of their people.
“Now I hold Creation in my foot,” shows that man is now superior to God and anything else that brought it to its position of power, which is an act of betrayal. The hawk even feels superior and incomparable to something as powerful as the sun, which Hughes conveys in the line “the sun is behind me”, which creates an imagery of the hawk blocking or eclipsing the sun. The idea of fascism also arises by the repeated imagery of death, as Hughes writes, “through the bones of the living”, “…tearing off heads” and “…in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat”. The arrogance and egoism is evident by the poet’s use of punctuated lines that begin each stanza. This starts the stanza with a very stark and cold tone. The last line of the poem ends with a very arrogant and naive remark, as the hawk feels that it will forever dominate everything else. Again, referring to the connection to humanity, this mindset is also seen in dictators, who think they are invincible and irreplaceable. However, the poet’s matter-of-fact approach to these violent, intense actions of the hawk makes the reader feel that they are acceptable, that they are the norm in nature.
Throughout the poem, the hawk is described as being in its resting state, and appears to be more pensive than active (hence the title of the poem). It sits in its “roost” and thinks over its place in nature. According to Hughes, the hawk is supposed to symbolize what “nature is thinking”. The setting of the poem is literally in nature, as evident in the imagery of the sun, the “top of the wood”, “high trees” and “rough bark”. By means of straightforward, yet hefty statements, Hughes demonstrates that the hawk’s behavior is natural, and that its actions are based on pure instinct and sophistry (which is ironic, considering the hawk’s statement in line 15). This contrasts with the more dominant characteristic that man possesses: the ability to reason. In the fifth stanza, this is also elaborated as the hawk justifies his actions with fate (“for the one path of my flight is direct”), meaning that it is destined and has a right to kill. From this aspect, the last line of the poem would make sense, as nature will continue on this cycle of violence and predation.
While some argue that he has made violence appear more acceptable in this poem, Hughes defends himself by stating that this is a cycle in nature, and perhaps that such behavior is more acceptable in nature rather than among mankind. By the use of the hawk, Hughes has symbolized the clash between man and nature, and that man’s (for the most part) rational nature is what separates it from the more instinctual, kill-or-be-killed ways of nature, as well as God, who “created” nature. On the contrary, the poem also suggests that man often has the potential to be irrational as well, tapping into its more instinctual, impulsive side.