'The Hawk' by William Butler Yeats

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'Call down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild.'

'I will not be clapped in a hood,
Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist,
Now I have learnt to be proud
Hovering over the wood
In the broken mist
Or tumbling cloud.'

'What tumbling cloud did you cleave,
Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind,
Last evening? that I, who had sat
Dumbfounded before a knave,
Should give to my friend
A pretence of wit.'

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Hawk by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Imagery

As I read "The Hawk" by William Butler Yeats, I am struck by the power and depth of the poem's symbolism and imagery. This classic poem, first published in 1919, is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that captures the essence of the human experience through the metaphor of a hawk.

The Symbolism of the Hawk

At first glance, the hawk seems to represent a fierce and predatory force of nature, a predator that is both beautiful and deadly. But as we delve deeper into the poem, we begin to see that the hawk is more than just a bird of prey. It is a symbol of power, pride, and freedom. It represents the human desire for dominance and control, as well as the struggle to achieve it.

The hawk's "perfect" mastery of its physical environment is a metaphor for the human desire for mastery over one's own life. The hawk's "wings my sail" line represents the human desire for freedom and the ability to soar above the limitations of daily life. In contrast, the "treeless plain" symbolizes the barrenness and emptiness of a life without purpose or direction.

The Imagery of the Poem

Yeats' masterful use of imagery throughout the poem is another reason why it has stood the test of time. He uses vivid and powerful images to convey the meaning of the poem, drawing the reader into the world of the hawk and its prey.

For example, when Yeats writes, "I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams," he is creating an image of the hawk's power and dominance, but also its vulnerability. The hawk's dreams are its ambitions and desires, but they are also its weaknesses. The image of someone treading on the hawk's dreams is a powerful metaphor for the destruction of one's hopes and aspirations.

The Theme of Human Ambition

The theme of human ambition is central to "The Hawk." Yeats presents the hawk as a symbol of human ambition, showing how it can be both a source of motivation and a source of destruction. The hawk's desire for mastery and control is the same desire that drives human beings to achieve greatness, but it can also lead to arrogance and hubris.

The hawk's "victims" in the poem are also symbols of human ambition. They represent the obstacles and challenges that human beings must overcome in order to achieve their goals. The image of the "field mouse" struggling to survive in the face of the hawk's power is a metaphor for the struggle of the human spirit to overcome adversity.

The Universal Appeal of the Poem

One of the reasons why "The Hawk" has become a classic is its universal appeal. The themes of ambition, power, and freedom are timeless and resonate with readers from all walks of life. The poem speaks to the human condition and the struggle to achieve greatness in the face of adversity.

The imagery and symbolism in the poem are also universal in their appeal. The hawk is a powerful and majestic creature that is recognized and admired by people all over the world. The image of the field mouse is equally universal, representing the struggle of all creatures to survive in a hostile world.


In conclusion, "The Hawk" by William Butler Yeats is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that captures the essence of the human experience through the metaphor of a hawk. It is a poem that speaks to the universal themes of ambition, power, and freedom, and uses vivid and powerful imagery to convey its message. It is a timeless classic that continues to inspire and captivate readers today, just as it did when it was first published over a century ago.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Hawk by William Butler Yeats is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by scholars and poetry enthusiasts for decades. This poem is a perfect example of Yeats' mastery of language and his ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through his writing. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism used in The Hawk, and how they contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.

The Hawk is a short poem, consisting of only six lines, but it is packed with meaning and emotion. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or meter. This allows Yeats to focus on the content of the poem, rather than the structure, and to create a more natural and conversational tone.

The poem begins with the line, "I caught a little silver hawk upon the wharf." This line sets the scene for the rest of the poem and introduces the main subject, the hawk. The use of the word "little" to describe the hawk is interesting because hawks are typically seen as powerful and majestic birds. However, the use of this word suggests that the hawk is vulnerable and in need of protection.

The next line, "And killed him out of hand," is a stark contrast to the previous line. It is a brutal and violent act, and it immediately creates a sense of tension and conflict in the poem. The use of the phrase "out of hand" suggests that the killing was impulsive and without thought or consideration. This line also introduces the theme of power and control, as the speaker has the power to take the life of the hawk.

The third line, "For no better reason than a moment's thought," further emphasizes the impulsive nature of the killing. The use of the phrase "no better reason" suggests that there was no justification for the killing, and it was done purely on a whim. This line also introduces the theme of regret, as the speaker seems to be reflecting on their actions and questioning their motives.

The fourth line, "It took the whole of my strength to get him out," is a powerful image that conveys the physical effort required to kill the hawk. The use of the word "whole" suggests that the speaker put all of their energy into the act of killing, and it was not an easy task. This line also introduces the theme of struggle, as the speaker had to overcome the hawk's strength and resistance to kill it.

The fifth line, "And now he lies there, weighed down by his own blood," is a gruesome image that emphasizes the violence of the killing. The use of the phrase "weighed down" suggests that the hawk's blood is a heavy burden, and it is a reminder of the speaker's actions. This line also introduces the theme of guilt, as the speaker is forced to confront the consequences of their actions.

The final line, "I pity him, he loved the sun," is a poignant and emotional conclusion to the poem. The use of the word "pity" suggests that the speaker now regrets their actions and feels sympathy for the hawk. The phrase "he loved the sun" is a metaphor for the hawk's freedom and natural habitat, and it emphasizes the tragedy of his death. This line also introduces the theme of loss, as the speaker mourns the loss of the hawk's life and freedom.

Overall, The Hawk is a powerful and emotional poem that explores themes of power, control, regret, struggle, guilt, and loss. Yeats uses vivid imagery and symbolism to convey these themes and to create a sense of tension and conflict in the poem. The poem is a reminder of the fragility of life and the consequences of our actions, and it encourages us to reflect on our own behavior and the impact it has on the world around us.

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