Hawk by Keki N. Daruwalla

Summary of Hawk

‘Hawk’ has been taken from The Keeper of the Dead published in 1982. You will see that it is about how a hawk is trained as a hunting bird but you can also read it as describing human behaviour. You will notice that throughout the poem the poet has used ‘he: for the hawk giving it a kind of human identity. This bird of prey projects an image of violence that is a common pattern of behaviour in human society. You can take the hawk as a symbol of the destructive instinct in man. But you may also feel that the bird objectifies the spirit of rebellion against the established order.

The poem, as you must have noticed, is divided into four sections. The opening section catches the hawk at an intense moment of killing. The wild hawk:a powerfull bird of prey: is seen hunting other birds in the morning. It has speed it flies up in the sky it seems to drill a hole into it. Then we are made to see the world as appears to the hawk from the height. To him the land seems covered with a thin film of salt. You know that if there is too much salt in the soil: no vegetation will grow there. Similarly: when the hawk is prowling about in the sky, no ‘grass-seed: insect: bird’ can thrive. We are told that this hawk is by hatred which is like the burning fuse of a bomb ready to go off.

In the evening too: the hawk hovers ‘the groves: looking for prey. From the ground he looks like a speck but he is a speck of ‘barbed passion’: always ready to kill. Birds like crows: mynahs or pigeons are roosting below. When a parakeet becomes aware of the hawks presence it flies away ‘raucously’. You will notice that by hinting at the silence of the roosting birds and describing the noise made by a flying parakeet, the poet creates a sense of lurking danger in the form of the hawk We feel that at any moment: the hawk may swoop down on the birds. He has been compared to a rapist in the harem of the sky. He picks up birds at will. As he holds a pigeon in his talons, he scans the other birds and tries to decide which bird he will pick up next. The wild: predatory hawk is burning with hatred which is like a cup in which the smaller birds are the dregs’ that he scoops up.

The second section describes how a hawk is tamed. Such a hawk is much more destructive because he has been ‘touched by the hand of man’. What does the expression mean? Does it mean that because man has trained the hawk to kill, it has become more lethal that the one in nature? Or, could it mean that anything that man touches grows worse than what it was? You will see that both these interpretations are plausible. These two interpretations will take your argument in two different directions. The first interpretation will make you believe that training leads to greater effectiveness; the other will suggest that the poet has a rather unflattering view of the moral qualities of the modem man.

The poem then describes how a hawk is trained to hunt. The training is a painful and frustrating experience for the hawk. His eyes are covered: ‘his eyelids are sewn with silk’. The word ‘ sewn’ suggests the pain that the young hawk has to go through. You must have come across the expression ‘ eagle-eyed’. The hawk’s most precious possession is his remarkable eyesight but that is taken away from him temporarily so that he can be trained. The next few lines descfibe how the hawk is given back his sense of sight bit by bit. The poet uses the metaphor of food when he says that ‘morsels of vision are fed to his eyes’. When the hawk can see again, he is fully trained to kill at the command of his master The hawk’s destructiveness is suggested when his eye is described as ‘the eye of the storm’ The hawk then begins to hunt. He is described as leaping up into the sky: hovering on ‘ splayed wings’ and then suddenly plummeting ‘like a flair’ and striking the quarry in a ‘gust of feathers’. Notice how the poet has suggested a sense of sudden, violent movement You will also notice that the word ‘ storm’ with which the previous movement ended appears to anticipate ‘ gust’ in this movement. Man has made hawking a fine art and a ritual. The section ends with the image of a hawk being fed morsels of meat from the body of the bird he has killed.

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The third section describes how a pair of trained hawks, ‘the mother hawk and son’, hunts a hare. They attack it repeatedly: and its death is slow. This section also suggests how the hunted hare feels. Its heart is pounding with fear; it is like a stable full of whinnying horses. The last two lines describe pictorially how the hare’s blood can be seen scattered on the grass where it was killed.

You will see that in the final section the hawk himself is telling his story. He begins by saying that he has no memory of the time when he was ‘stolen from the eyrie’. The only thing he remembers is the leather disc that Ivas put on his eyes. He mentions the painful stitching of his eyelids.

But now the hawk is trained He is learning how to spot the birds he has to kill Like the young hawk when he was captured: these birds too have a right to live and to procreate. But the hawk has been trained to take that right away. In the closing lines of the poem: the hawk tells us how he feels when he hunts other birds. His presence in the sky means certain death of a bird. There are a number of expressions here that suggest it. You immediately think of ‘black prophecy’ ‘moth-soft cocoon of death’ and eyes focussed like ‘the sights of a gun.

In the concluding two lines the point of view changes from that of a hawk to a dove’s. There will be a drought and instead of rain the doves will find hawks raining down on them.

You will remember that we often use the word ‘hawk’ for a person with an aggressive and violent approach to problems and a ‘dove’ for one who wants peace at all costs. Do you think that the last two lines suggest that in times to come: violent people will become dominant in society and the peace-loving ‘ doves’ will be at their mercy? You will realize thus that this poem can be understood in a wider context too.

Analysis of the Poem

The poem “Hawk” starts off with a vivid description of the hawk as a cruel, ruthless predator. He is a ‘king’ who rules the skies and scans the earth for vulnerable prey. The poet imagines him to be full of hate as he soars, glides and swoops down on unsuspecting, smaller birds. The image of the bird is imbued with an explosive dynamism and barely curbed violence, which is unleashed in the latter part of the stanza.

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The poet uses a number of adjectives and phrases to describe the hawk: ‘wild’; ‘king’; ‘frustrated parricide on the kill’; speck of barbed passion’; ‘rapist’. He is full of violence; burning with ‘the fuse of his hate’, who, having ‘skewered’ a victim to his talon, still looks for prey which are ‘black dregs in the cup of his hate’.

The description of the hawk patrolling the sky in search of prey conjures up the image of a sharp and quick creature with no compassion or tenderness. The poet imagines this creature to be hate-filled for that is the emotion, which would be intense enough to fuel the bird’s killing spree. The second stanza paints a different picture of the hawk. Here, his passion has been tamed; his eyes have been stitched cruelly shut and he is forced to accept the hood that will keep him covered till his master wishes to release him for his own pleasure. The poet feels that the tamed hawk is ‘worse’ for he has been tainted by the touch of Man and hence, his forays into the sky will be even more driven by hate than they otherwise were.

The manner in which the hawk is subdued by human beings evokes compassion. He is first trapped, then blinded – albeit temporarily – and kept hungry. Once his trainer thinks that the time is right, the stitches over the hawk’s eyes are slowly removed and he is allowed to see once more. Now he will travel across space at the whim of his master and hunt for him. The hawk still is a formidable predator but his power, hunter’s instinct and keenness of vision are now instruments to be used by his master and no longer at his own disposal. He is no more the ‘king’ but a slave; no more the master of the sky and the lesser creatures that are his prey for the predator has now himself fallen prey to Man’s greed.

The poet makes innovative use of language when he describes the hawk’s spiral, upward movement in the ascending wind as drilling the sky. Hate is evoked in terms of an explosive with a burning fuse that rages in the bird’s breast when he cannot find prey in the barren landscape. In addition, the same emotion is also a cup in which float, like sediment at the bottom, the hawk’s future prey for it is certain that he will be on the hunt once more. The sharpness and power of the hawk’s beak is captured by the wori ‘barbed’ while his rampage among the variety of birds that haunt the evening is described in an image that is as graphic as it is shocking and unusual—‘rapist in the harem of the sky’.

Form and Imagery

Now that you have read the poem: how would you like to describe it? Most poems have a single voice but ‘Hawk’ has two voices: one of the narrator and the other of the hawk; therefore you can call it a dramatic poem.

You will see that in the poem there are many images that suggest something that is pointed and has a tendency to hurt. The hawk ‘ drill(s)’ the sky: he is seen as a speck of ‘barbed passion: the pigeon in his talons is ‘skewered’ his eyelids are ‘sewn with silk’ suggesting the use of a needle: his vision is ‘perforated’ and he is fed with morsels of meat that are carved from the breast of the quarry whose he-an is gouged out: suggesting the use of a knife. All these images suggest the violent nature of the hawk.

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Another set of images are related to wind suggesting the swiftness with which the hawk attacks. He is seen ‘riding an ascending wind’ his eye travels like ‘the eye of the storm’ and he ‘floats: on splayed wings. When the hawk attacks there is ‘ a gust of feathers ‘ The hunted hare is stunned by ‘the squall of wings above’.

To suggest the violence of the hawk: images like the burning ‘fuse’ of a bomb and his eyes focused on the quarry ‘like the sights of a gun’ have been used. There are also images that suggest fire. The ‘burning’ fuse of his hatred: the hare’s heart like a ‘burning stable’ and the hawk’s eyelids that ‘burn with thwarted vision’ are such images.

Theme of the poem

Daruwalla comes is a poet of action with many poems featuring predatory birds and beasts. There are also poems about soldiers and warriors, which might indicate the poet’s preoccupation with the theme of power or dominance. There is not much sympathy for the victims–it is after all a world where only the fittest survive and history tells us that this has always been the way of the world. It is not easy to say whether there is the concept of a god who rules over the universe conjured up by the poet. There does not appear to be a sense of moral order brimming with compassion or a sense of justice in which the weak are rewarded and the cruel mighty are brought down to the dust. What there does seem to be is the operation of the law of the jungle. Although some might term him as a cynic, the poet would like to see himself more as a realist who looks at the world and human history with an unprejudiced eye. For him, power, lust and violence are natural instincts that drive human beings and write our history

Questions and Answers

1) Describe how the hawk is trained to kill.

Ans. See Summary.

2) Do you think the hawk represents the violence in man?

Ans. This bird of prey projects an image of violence that is a common pattern of behaviour in human society. You can take the hawk as a symbol of the destructive instinct in man. But you may also feel that the bird objectifies the spirit of rebellion against the established order.

3) Point out images of violence in the poem.

Ans. To suggest the violence of the hawk: images like the burning ‘fuse’ of a bomb and his eyes focused on the quarry ‘like the sights of a gun’ have been used. There are also images that suggest fire. The ‘burning’ fuse of his hatred: the hare’s heart like a ‘burning stable’ and the hawk’s eyelids that ‘burn with thwarted vision’ are such images.

Q 4: Why can the “hawk” be considered a ‘king’?
Ans.: The hawk can be considered a ‘king’ in more ways than one as
he possesses extraordinary abilities and power.

Q 5: How does Daruwalla use landscapes to illustrate his point?
Ans. Daruwalla uses landscape as an extension of the human mind.

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