‘Hawk Roosting’ and ‘Pike’
Firstly I will examine the title in relation to the poem ‘Pike’. The first stanza of Hughes’ poem shows a distinction between his own style and the Romanticism of the Nineteenth Century’s style of poetry: ‘Pike, three inches long, perfect Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold. Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin. They dance on the surface among the flies. ‘ In contrast to Wordsworth’s idealism’s, and pondering of nature and delicate human emotions, “Pike” shows a rough and more realistic nature. Unlike the beautiful, idyllic scenes of the Romantics that evoked complex views, Hughes’ poem describes simple human emotions.
This occurs because “Pike” depicts a nature commanding respect for its obvious rawness, power, and uniqueness, in contrast to the universal “Nature” of the Nineteenth Century. Hughes accomplishes this through impressive imagery, poetic devices, all of which evoke powerful emotions from the reader. The subject of the poem, a fish species called pike, are known to be voracious predators, disliked and even feared by some anglers but greatly admired by others because of their size and the persistent fight they put up when hooked.
Hughes uses this powerful fish in his illustration of nature. The poem starts with a young, beautiful pike dancing in the water, but moves quickly to the sinister side of the mature fish. A pike with hooked jaws and fangs, “With a sag belly and the grin it was born with,” represents the untamed side of nature (ln 21). Even in death the predator retains the iron look of determination and fierceness. Punctuation as well follows no set course, so keeps the reader alert and watchful, much as an observer would need to be in the environment of nature according to Hughes.
Similarly, the words chosen in this poem are strong and evoke certain images and feelings. Adjectives and verbs used such as: stunned, jammed, jungled; sagging bellies, hooked jaws, legendary depths; killers with malevolent grins, all give the impression of the pike, and indeed nature, being powerful and dynamic. Another poetic device used by Hughes is personification. The reader first encounters this by seeing a three inch, grinning young pike thinking of itself as, “A hundred feet long ” (ln 8).
This is a fairly tame image, associated to the young of the ferocious lion, who seem cute and charming as inquisitive cubs. It may perhaps be a probe at human nature, with Hughes arguing like Blake did two decades earlier that humans are born innocent but as they grow they fast descend into the realms of experience and in doing so lose their innocence and become somewhat savage. It would seem that this is the case in this poem because as the poem progresses, the pike is no longer a curious young fish, but a savage predator fighting for survival, the same of which could be said about a human at this stage.
It is nearly eight times larger than in the beginning and its grin is now menacing. Another of Hughes’ poems “Hawk Roosting” is written from the point of view of the hawk, a bird of prey, which sits roosting in a tree. The Hawk sees the air and earth as having being made solely for his benefit and believes himself to be the ultimate being of Creation. He claims he has power to revolve the world as well as having power over life and death. We are given this idea from when the Hawk tells us “the earth’s face upward for my inspection” and “I kill where I please”.
Here it seems apparent that Hughes wants to show how controlling the bird is and the neat, controlling form of language reflects this. Hughes has indeed described the poem with exact naturalistic detail, because the Hawk is at the top of the food chain, so in effect does have power over all the other species that lie bellow it. The title would also seem applicable here because humans also have a tendency to think of themselves as being the ultimate beings of creation, and disregard things smaller than themselves. The Hawk speaks in a very farfetched way: I hold Creation in my foot…
I revolve it [Creation] all slowly… it is all mine. This stresses the hawk’s feeling that he alone is dominant. The poet may be scared that one creature can claim so much power over its fellow creatures. Hughes is questioning exactly what the nature of a god/creator is. He then makes the point that man (who believes himself capable of most of the things the hawk claims to do) is over-reaching himself and that nobody should control all of Creation like that, so again the title is correct in this instance as well.
Incidentally in contrast to the poem “Pike”, this poem is written in six regular stanzas. The regularity and order of the stanzas are perhaps to remind us of the control the hawk, and indeed humans, claim to have over their worlds. So overall, based on the above analysis, it would seem accurate to conclude that, based on the two poems I have analysed, Hughes’ early poems do describe the animal kingdom with exact naturalistic detail as well as focusing on animals to probe at aspects of human activity.
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