Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hawk in the Rain - Ted Hughes: Analysis

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The Hawk In The Rain - Ted Hughes

A line by line progressive commentary …

Hawk and rain are the two operative words in the title.

I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up

I can imagine Ted Hughes walking along the edge of a ploughed field in Yorkshire on a rain filled day. The nature of the rain is clearly stated by the two alliterative words drown and drumming. It is heavy - enough to drown and persistent and dominating as the continual sound of a drum. There is no tin roof around but we don’t know what noise is being made against any clothing Ted might be waring.

There is a pause after I drag up, text, which must flow on to the text of the next line … to be continued … as the rain continues.

Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth's mouth,

We now have a picture of movement, of difficulty in walking and the earth becomes a mouth swallowing, what it is exactly swallowing is not known at this stage.

From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

It is now quite clear that the sodden ground is engulfing Ted. The alliterative clutching clay gives personification to the earth. Ted now extends his thoughts to the grave and the ground that will inevitably conquer him. The earth has this habit of taking people, but the hawk … again we have text that must continue, this time to the text of the second stanza.
Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,

Eye and height define the hawk. In great to contrast to Ted who has been focusing on the ground. The hawk has the entire world below him and moreover it is effortless for him to hover in the adverse conditions.

Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

We do not know what has drawn Ted to look at the sky but in doing so we sense a degree of envy for the Hawk while the wind destroys below. By choosing hallucination Ted perhaps wonders whether this is real and whether the hawk can resist nature in this way.
Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs,

Emphasis is given to what is happening at Ted’s level the wind and the rain taking on the dimension of a murderer, and then reflecting back to the hawk we have to wait after hangs to go to the next line.

The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner's endurance: And I,

The ability of the hawk to withstand the weather is emphasised by taking the diamond shape confronting the wind and that diamonds are used for cutting. Polestars is a wonderful choice of word it gives eye to the sky and the polestar is a guide and safety symbol. It is used as a verb giving action to the scene. The weather is such that anyone caught at sea is likely to have a most unpleasant time. Then returning to Ted’s predicament the stanza ends with another pause.

Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth's mouth, strain to the master-
Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still.
That maybe in his own time meets the weather

The stanza splits in two again between the hawk and Ted. Ted is about to be devoured akin to the hawk devouring a morsel from the ground. The key word in this stanza is master-fulcrum. Fulcrum - the support, or point of rest, on which a lever turns in moving a body.

In the last line consideration is given to the mortality of the hawk and a question is started with a pause at the end of the stanza.

Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down,
Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him,
The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye
Smashed, mix his heart's blood with the mire of the land.

In time the hawk will be caught by nature and meet the same fate and the earth will conquer. The ponderous shires crash on him. This bottom up expression gives strength to the power of the earth to greet the fate of the hawk. Note how this links to the wrong way in the first line.

The angelic eye shows the beauty of the hawk and gives religious tones as of the falling of an angel – even the most perfect of creatures will meet the fate of all – perhaps a cry on the nature of nature from one who had so great an affinity with natural world.

Ted Hughes (from The Hawk in the Rain 1957)
Some questions 
1 ... What is the main nature of nature expressed?

2 ... What could the rain represent?

3 ... What alliterations are most effective?

4 ... Is there a fulcrum to the poem, if so where is it?

5 ... How is the continual contrast between the situation of the hawk and Ted resolved?

6 ... How does the personification of the earth as killer integrate as part of nature?

7 ... Do you think the title The Hawk in the Rain is appropriate?

8 ... What one-sentence-statement would you give as response to your reading of this poem?

... and a recommended link for those interested in The Thought- Fox


  1. from a reader ...

    I just love the depiction of the hawk with still eye (contrasted by the banging wind which 'thumbs my eyes')

    Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
    His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,

    It has wonderful imagery, balance, poise and power.

    My comment would be that the hawk may also represent his poetic vision which, while his eye remains true, is constant.

    It also, as you say, has a religious ''tone'' - I would use spiritual rather than religious - angels being part of the magical cosmology. He could be alluding to the inevitable fallibility of humanity i.e. we can't be angels, we might aspire to be, but then we are grounded eventually, ''maybe in our own time'' by a faulty product - lol!!

    Clay that clutches - nice onomatopoeia, hear the boot pulling out of deep mud.

  2. Clay that Clutches

    ... I certainly agree with that, it even sticks in the mouth as you say it

    ... onomatopoeia - the formation of a name or word by imitating the sound associated with the object

    ... now as for nature being a faulty product, and nothing we can do about it - that is a BIG question

    ... I recently opened a 'book' (Paradise Lost) in the lounge of a hotel ... not Milton but an empty box - the bottle of whisky long gone ... well at least an apt title!

  3. What does rain represent? ... well it can only represent one thing (besides itself of course)... and is it wet in Yorkshire ... no different from Manchester of course ...

    Ted Hughes had some words to say about rain, a poem called 'Rain' and the following words ...

    life tries
    death tries
    stone tries
    but rain never tires

    ... an interesting play on words between TRIES and TIRES ...

    ... apart from rain ... what never ends (apart from taxes and death) ... well it could be TIME ... it seems to fit with the theme of the poem.

  4. Just a niggle - The beginning of line 18, according to the Faber Edition of the collection, Hawk in the Rain, ought to read 'fall', not 'falls'. This is important because the final five lines of the poem don't make sense with 'falls' but they do with 'fall'. Ask yourself, for example, what does the hawk do 'in his own time'? He first 'meets the weather coming the wrong way', he then 'suffers [both endures and allows] the air [to] fall from his eye, the ponderous shires [to] crash on him, the horizon [to] trap him...[to] mix his heart's blood with the mire of the land.' Clumsy, I know, but Hughes's way of expressing himself is rarely anything but clumsy and this reading does at least avoid the hawk, the subject of the sentence, having to fall from his own eye which would simply be nonsense.

    1. But if he's "allowing",then doesn't that undermine the whole ascendency of nature thing that the poem is apparently about?

  5. Many thanks for your comment ... I take your point ... and I have changed line 18 accordingly.

  6. thanks this will help me allot in my test.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Thanks Irene ... I take your point ... however, the reader/analyser is always the main protagonist. How much he or she identifies with the poet and walks in the skin of the words is up to the person concerned. I guess I am sharing too much of my personal thoughts in the name of Ted. … thanks for your comment.