"THE HAWK IN THE RAIN" by Ted Hughes

The speaker in the poem says that he is walking laboriously on the ground because there is deep mud through which he has to drag himself when it is also raining heavily. While he is going through a real ordeal in thus dragging himself through the mud in the heavy rain, a hawk, perched at a height, looks downwards calmly and without showing any sign of discomfort. The hawk sits “effortlessly” at a high point, maintaining his equilibrium. The hawk’s wings seem to hold all Creation without having to exert themselves in the least. The hawk sits steadily without being in the least shaken by the strong and cold wind which strikes against the body of the speaker in the poem, hitting every organ of his body.

Indeed, the speaker in the poem feels that the rain is cutting through his head and reaching his very bones, while the hawk sits determinedly, thus displaying unshakable will-power. The speaker feels that he would be swallowed by the mud on the earth. He is acutely conscious of the violence of Nature at this time, while the hawk sits still and at ease. But then it occurs to the speaker that a day would come when this hawk, taking a wrong direction in the course of a furious storm, would be forced downwards and flung down to the earth, to be killed instantaneously. Then the hawk’s blood would mingle with the mud on the ground.
The Hawk in the Rain is one of Hughes’s most famous poems. The whole volume of poems, Hughes’s first publication (which appeared in 1957), was called “The Hawk in the Rain” after the title of this one poem.
The theme of this poem is the contrast between the steadiness, the stability, and the strength of a hawk (perched on some cliff or crag or rock or tree) and the unsteadiness and the sense of danger of a human being when it is raining heavily and when a strong, cold wind is also blowing. The hawk remains unperturbed by the heavy rain and the strong wind, and maintains his equilibrium and poise. But the man struggles through the mud on the ground, feeling afraid lest he should sink into it and be swallowed by the earth. The hawk shows his strong will against the rain and against the violence of the wind, while the man feels that his end is near. However, the last stanza expresses a different idea. The hawk would one day meet his end when, “coming the wrong way,” he might be hurled downwards by the fury of the storm and killed. While the poem shows the hawk’s superiority over man in terms of will-power and the power of endurance, it also shows that the hawk is not immortal or invulnerable.
The poem contains graphic imagery, like the bulk the poems in the same volume, and like most of the other poems which Hughes wrote subsequently. We are given a vivid picture of a man struggling through mud and feeling that he might be swallowed by the earth. We also have a vivid picture of the hawk perched effortlessly at a height, maintaining a still eye. The final stanza presents the most vivid picture of the hawk being hurled down by a furious storm, and dashing against the earth, to be killed instantaneously.
The pictures in this poem have been presented to our minds by means of striking words put together in original combinations. Indeed, this poem shows Hughes’s skilful use of the language even though simplicity is sacrificed in the process. Some of the most impressive lines, as regards the use of language, are the following:
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,
Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance:
The use of simile and metaphor in the poem adds to its interest and also serves to emphasize the particular idea being expressed. Examples of such a use of figures of speech are: “steady as a hallucination;” “morsel in the earth’s mouth”; “the ponderous shires crash on him”; and “the horizon traps him.” We also have alliteration in the poem; and this also is a device which Hughes uses in his poetry frequently and with great effect. The very first line and then the last line of the poem provide examples of the use of alliteration:
(1)    I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up…
(2)    Smashed, mix his heart’s blood with the mire of the land.
Here the “m” sound is repeated, and also the “l” sound (in “blood” and “land”). The last stanza produces a dramatic effect on us because of the reversal of the idea of the poem. This stanza comes as a surprise. Throughout the poem a contrast is established between the man and the hawk; and then similar to the man’s, if not worse than the man’s.
According to one of the critics, Alan Bold, Hughes believes that the strength of animals lies in their instinct and precise function. Hughes said: “Animals are not violent, they are so much more completely controlled than men, so much more adapted to their environment.” So, while Hughes is almost swallowed up by mud, and is mastered by this earthy element, the hawk “effortlessly at height hands his still eye.” While the ferocious wind
Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance.
This, says Alan Bold, is a radical note in Nature-poetry. Previous lovers of Nature have, like G. M. Hopkins, marvelled at the variety and beauty of animals, or, like D. H. Lawrence, seen them as similar to man. Hughes, however, deliberately puts man at a disadvantage as compared with animals. In this poem, man exists on a lower earth-bound level than the hawk. For Hughes, animals are pure embodied function; they are not, like man, vitiated by spurious morality or incapacitated by doubt. A hawk is a hawk whereas a man has ambition to be god-like and is thus permanently frustrated. The hawk is for ever in his own element even when he dies an elemental death as he “meets the weather/Coming the wrong way.” 

One thought on “"THE HAWK IN THE RAIN" by Ted Hughes”

  1. More than fifty years after its publication, The Hawk in the Rain remains one of Ted Hughes’s most important, and most accomplished works.

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