The Harsh and Brutal Cruelty of the Animal World in ‘Hawk Roosting’.
Surrounded by the wilderness of Mytholmroyd, Hughes’ childhood was greatly influenced by the natural world, and this was significantly reflected in his poetry. Much of Hughes’ literary works depict the sheer power and, indeed, the cruelty of the animal world; and often how it mirrored our own humanity. ‘Hawk Roosting’ is a prime example of Hughes’ fascination of the ‘harsh and brutal cruelty’ of the animal world. The poetic voice of the hawk is merciless and remorseless. In the fourth stanza, it says “I kill where I please”, which epitomizes the brutal cruelty of the world in which it hunts, and the hawk itself. Indeed, the raw reality and honesty of the hawk’s nature (‘no falsifying dream’) only serves to accentuate its ruthlessness, as it is distinctly lacking in compassion or empathy. It is a predator; it lives to kill, and the hawk is perfectly aware of that. Yet, considering this, one could argue that despite the hawk’s conceited persona, it is merely doing what it needs to survive. How can the innate instinct for self-preservation be classified as ‘cruelty’, regardless of the fashion in which it was conducted? Perhaps Hughes, instead, was fascinated by the simplicity of nature -to kill or be killed- and the contrast it holds to the mundane convolution of human lives.
Certainly, Hughes was fascinated by the immense power of nature, which he depicts in an almost godly sense. An example of this is ‘The Horses’, where he describes a sunset as ‘shaking the gulf open’, and includes narrations of ‘big planets hanging’; such celestial and god-like imagery serves to portray the domination that nature holds. This is illustrated also in ‘Hawk Roosting’, as the hawk is convinced of its own omnipotence, complacent in its triumph over what it perceives to be “all mine [his].” The hawk’s belief in its own importance goes beyond arrogance; it is surety. However, there is a certain simplicity in the hawk’s entire world revolving around himself; something that isn’t harsh or brutal, but candidly frank.
In the fifth stanza, the words ‘death’ and ‘living’ are juxtaposed as end focuses, creating a glib antithesis that could reference nature’s core cycle of life and death. Arguably, this cannot be considered ‘cruel’ or ‘brutal’ – the meaning of life and imminence of death is what defines us as a species, and what instinctually motivates animals. The very essence of nature is indiscriminate. Despite this, it is indisputable that there is savagery and brutality within the nature of the hawk, as it declares that its manners are ‘tearing off heads’. This could, perhaps. demonstrate that Hughes was indeed fascinated by the brutality of the animal world, and how it played a part in the balance of nature. Perhaps, by lending a voice to the hawk, it personifies it to the point where it is all too recognizably human.
Indeed, I do believe that Hughes was also fascinated by the brutal cruelty of the human world. It is a common interpretation of ‘Hawk Roosting’ that the poem references political dictatorship through the domineering and tyrannical orientation of the hawk, which emphasizes the faith in humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Hughes graphically describes the effects of human brutality in his poem ‘The Jaguar’, which describes the cruelty of captivity in very human terms. One critic denotes that Hughes “was enchanted by the beauty of the natural world, frequently portraying its cruel and savage temperament in his work as a reflection of his own personal suffering and mystical beliefs – convinced that modern man had lost touch with the primordial side of his nature,” which I agree with entirely. In ‘Hawk Roosting’, Hughes does indeed depict the beauty of the ‘natural world’ through the hawk, as it believes that it took ‘the whole of Creation’ to produce him. This godly imagery focussing on a single bird, for me, creates a sense of awe in the intricacies and perfection in every part of the world, and nature itself, and evokes a delicate sense of beauty.
Furthermore, I believe that Hughes also depicted his constant dissension with the media, and their scrutiny of him through his poem that portray animals in captivity. One could argue that Hughes felt as if he was imprisoned by the prying eyes of the media, as if he were a spectacle for the entertainment of the public, despite his suffering. Hughes was defamed and vilified by the press, and this could influence his representation of caged animals in his poetry. However, controversially, it is also possible that Hughes was writing from his own experience of inflicting suffering on those weaker than him. In light of his alleged abuse of Plath and her subsequent suicide, it could be argued that the predator present in many of his poem is, in fact, him. Either way, Hughes’ depiction of animals in his poetry could be a stark and raw reference to the human potential for brutal cruelty and savagery – and that, perhaps, we are not as different to wild animals as we would like to believe.
 Paula Bardell, http://www.hereinmaine.com/poetry/27779.php
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