Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hughes’ Hawk Roosting

Whereas in "the Hawk in the Rain" Hughes watches the hawk, admires it, but knows it will one day be smashed, in the uncollected poem "Hawk Roosting" Hughes becomes the hawk.  Perhaps I have been influenced over the years by anti-Hughes rants but he has been frequently described as a predator, chalking up female conquests.  Even if that were not true (and I think it is) I would think he would want to avoid identifying himself (to his readers) as a predator, and not just any predator but one (unlike the hawk in the rain) who holds Creation in his foot.  Now perhaps this “creation” is his writing of poetry, but the poem must stand on the obvious level as well; which means Hughes identifying himself as a predator.

But Hughes is probably a different sort of hawk: "I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed."  I have several photos of hawks sitting near or at the top of trees, but I can't quite picture one sitting at the top of a wood (of course the “wood” is developed more fully in “A Modest Proposal” and he may be meaning the same thing in this poem: the realm of poetry).  As to their eyes being closed, they never seem to miss our approach.  The idea of surprising a hawk in a tree is inconceivable to me.

"Inaction, no falsifying dream / Between my hooked head and hooked feet:"  He isn't moving and if he is dreaming it isn't a false dream.  It is a dream "between" his head and feet" presumably meaning the reality of him, hooked, the hook being weapon-like; although I'm not sure "between" works at this point.  And if he is sleeping and dreams it is all about killing and eating which is what he is all about -- an unconflicted predator (Killing and eating being Hughes symbol, perhaps, of writing poetry).  "Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat."  Why does Hughes anthropomorphize this hawk as himself?  What is killing and eating a metaphor of if not for the conquests he was engaging in prior to the time of this poem? Does it really work as a symbol for his writing?]

In the second stanza this hawk is viewing the woods as being for his convenience, the high trees, air's buoyancy and the suns's ray "are of advantage to me" /  And the earth's face upward for my inspection"  [quite an arrogant hawk]  continues in stanza three "My feet are locked upon he rough bark. / It took the whole of Creation / To produce my foot, my each feather: / Now I hold Creation in my foot /"  [One must come to a decision about whether Hughes is identifying with this hawk, as he seems to be, writing as he is in the first person" or disapproving of this hawk's arrogance which, it seems to me, involves reading into the poem something that isn't there.  Beyond that, the symbol being used for Hughes poetic process requires reading even more into his poem.]

Repeating the last line of stanza three "Now I hold Creation in my foot" / and continuing on to stanza four: "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 -- /"  And on to stanza five: "The allotment of death. / For the one path of my flight is direct / Through the bones of the living. / No arguments assert my right: /" [He needs no arguments to assert his right because his "might" does that for him and in the last stanza the sun asserts his right as well being behind him:  "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."]

"Hawk Roosting," according to the note on page 1244 of the 2003 edition of Ted Hughes, Collected Poems was written in 1959.  Hughes would have been 28 or 29.  Was he feeling arrogant back then, was he critical of people who seemed arrogant, or is he merely using the image of the hawk killing and eating as an arcane symbol of his poetic process.

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