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.
Edward James “Ted” Hughes (17 August 1930 – 28 October 1998) is described as one of the twentieth century’s greatest English poets. He was married to American poet Sylvia Plath from 1956 until her suicide in 1963 at the age of 30.
On the literal level of meaning this poem is the expression of a bird of prey, the hawk, which is sitting on a tree and meditating about its power of destruction, its ability to suppress change, and its conceited arrogance and superiority.
Metaphorically, this bird is the manifestation of the cruel force of nature, therefore the symbol of arrogance, destructiveness, egotistical attitude, obsession of power and tyranny; in short, the symbol of inhumanity.
This poem has a regular form, which suggests the killer is very calm and controlled about what he does and seems trying to justify his actions and the social position he holds that enables him to do it.
It is a dramatic monologue, told from the point of view of the bird who sees himself as the most powerful being in existence where he is the master of life and death and goes so far as to place the sun and creation (God) behind himself.
The first two stanzas are about his physical superiority, the other two reveal his power and how he holds everything, including life and death, in his claws.
The final two stanzas form a kind of justification for his actions, he is right due to his physical superiority and because he acts without deception.
When it came out, this poem was quite controversial. The image of the hawk sitting on top of the world, controlling everything through the threat of violence made people think of a fascist leader – the Nazi symbol was an eagle standing on top of a wreath.
Ted Hughes said he wanted to show ‘nature thinking’, but even so the bird’s thoughts are brutal and make it similar to a political leader who has seized power from the forces that have created him.