Term Paper: Crow &amp Hawk: The Bird

Pages: 12 (3830 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Crow, thus, carries all the so-called animalistic tendencies of humanity which are, in truth, not so much animalistic as they are exclusively human. Yet if Crow embodies all the messy human tendencies to create and to destroy (Freud's eros-drive and thanatos-drive) that humans tend to reject, one can see in Hawk the antithesis of these devalued values. Hawk is in many ways more animal than is Crow, because he is less introspective. Where Crow is chaotic and represents a world in constant flux (not a trait much admired by steady civilization), the Hawk is static and represents a world governed by strict laws of life and death:

The sun is behind me.

Nothing has changed since I began.

My eye has permitted no change.

I am going to keep things like this.

(Hughes, "Hawk Roosting")

In as much as the Crow is a figure of revolt (and revulsion), and subversion of systems of predation, Hawk seems to feel he has risen above them all. Hawk says, "I kill where I please because it is all mine." (Hughes, "Hawk Roosting") In this he is human, asserting his dominion over all living creatures. If, as has been suggested, the Crow can be interpreted as the Id, perhaps the Hawk can be interpreted as some form of the superego, that part of the self which has internalized the strict regulations of the parents and the god and the society under which the Id has been trained. Yet there remains something impassive about the Hawk which seems separate from the superego self, and it does seem strange that an animal would be used to represent that part of the human soul most desirable within society.

For the Hawk is more than just human -- he is almost fascist in his calm discussion of death, in claiming that his path must walk through the bones of the living. He is the perfect dominion and rationality of human kind distilled to a point where it is almost as revolting as the Crow's fascination with death and decay. One must compare his serene sense of being at the top of the food chain with Crow's more philosophical, if threatening, understanding that death comes for all, and that the one who eats will also be eaten. For Crow says:

Crow realized God loved him-

Otherwise, he would have dropped dead

. . .And what loved the shot-pellets

That dribbled from those strung-up mummifying crows?

(Hughes, "Crow's theology")

This sense that the same God who loves us and declared us to have dominion over all we see is the same God who has declared we will be eaten by worms at death takes a sort of uncomfortable faith that most humans deny. Visions of the afterlife and the body resurrected incorruptible all provide evidence to the theory that humankind wishes to reject its mortality and what Hamlet would call its progress through the guts of fish and worms.

In short, Crow in his carrion and God-eating nature, mischief and all, is a good representation of those aspects of the self which society is trained to suppress and look down upon in ourselves and others. To this degree it makes sense, one supposes, that Hughes would choose an animal which has been historically maligned (for doing the very important disease-preventing job of scavenging away rotting bodies, one might add) to signify his discussion of the inner shadow which is overlooked and repulsed by humankind. It is especially significant in light of the Crow's place in preChristian symbolism and lore.

According to Hughes and his later-day interpreters, the Crow serves a vital part in worldwide mythologies as the trickster and as a guardian and totem to the living and dead. "Crow is the bird of Bran, is the oldest and highest totem creature of Britain..." (Skea) writes Hughes. Meanwhile experts on Native American mythology point to the Crow's importance as a trickster. "He is comical, grotesque, stupid, cunning, ambiguous. He is sometimes part animal, and always part something else. The something else is what is so special. He is the dawning godhead in Man." (Skea)

The Trickster type seems to resonate through all old mythologies, appearing as Loki to the Norse, as Prometheus and Odysseus to the Greeks, and as Crow and Coyote to the Native Americans, and as Lucifer to early Christians. One of the important aspects of the trickster in his guise as Loki or Prometheus or a Miltonic Lucifer, of course, is his association in European Romanticism with the evolution of technology and the liberation of the human psyche from repression. Following this series of links, and some pointers in Hughes own discussions of his poem cycle, own comes again to the philosophy of Schopenhauer (and to a lesser degree his disciple Nietzsche).

Schopenhauer speaks in great length about the sublime and brutish forms of untamed nature balanced with the equally untamed human will. What Nietzsche would characterize as the will to power, this animal-based human drive to live and the subsequently radical exercise of choice, is as a concept a logical outcropping of the darker strains of romanticism. Such will is capable of defining and controlling and overcoming the world, and it is enlightened primarily through interaction with the terrible and profound rawness of a nature unblunted by civilization. This sort of rawness runs throughout Hughes poetry, and there is a degree to which it can be experienced through his work, or at least his work can awaken one to the awareness that it exists to be experienced.

'The awe and terror evoked by the Hughesian sublime are produced not so much by the hawk, the jaguar, the predatory landscape on which a particular poem centers, as by the sense of close encounter with the primal energy - rapacious, unstinting, and totally indifferent to human concerns - that fuels existence." (Eddins)

One of the traits of Schopenhauer that is relatively unique is the way in which he balances a sort of pantheistic deism with a concept of the horrors of reality. He writes that the universe has a Will which is the "thing it itself" as it were, and this is the almost Platonic form that creates the world around us. Human will is often in opposition to this will, fighting against it because it does not wish to except the full spectrum of that Will. The true Will of reality, one understands, encompasses both gentle beauty and fierce sublime beauty that involved horror and death and decay and pain beyond imagining. As the human will battles against this, it finds itself futile and unable to stand against that divine Will. All the suffering in the world comes from resisting pain and enlightenment from accepting its face of the sublime. (A thing which artists can package in acceptable dosages) Peace is found in embracing the Will of the world in all its horror. A very good artistic presentation of this idea is found in Hughes poem "Crow's Fall."

But the sun brightened-

It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.

He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.

"Up there," he managed,

"Where white is black and black is white, I won."

Of course, accepting this existential will and giving in to the profound peace that passes through suffering into transcendence is buried in the human soul even deeper than its shadows. Hughes seems to be suggesting that the Jungian Shadow and the Id, which civilization might identify with the human will that must be sacrificed to make peace with the divine will, are paradoxically the only elements within us that are capable of embracing the sublime. Because the Shadow and the Id are not logical, (saying as they do, "white is black and black is white") they are capable of the grand chaotic illogic of accepting the sublime and the self-destructive Will of the universe.

One could very easily go through and translate all the Crow poems into a commentary on Schopenhauer, but that is beyond the purpose of the moment. Suffice to say that the part of the human soul that embraces self-destruction has only been welcomed by martyrs and decadents, and that popular civilization has never much held with such indulgent behavior. The thin line between martyrdom and suicide, between masochistic decadence and ascetic mysticism, lies through the metaphoric Crow's nest. As for the Hawk, he represents both the human will unable to accept his finiteness within the Universal Will and -strangely- he also represents an aspect of that Universal Will, cruel and implacable and sublime to those it destroys.

This line of thought leads one to the final aspect of Hughes' Crow poems -- in their nonhuman animal nature, they represent a possible path of salvation for the post-apocalyptic, post-holocaustal, post-nuclear generation of humans. "Where white is black… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Crow &amp Hawk: The Bird."  Essaytown.com.  December 2, 2003.  Accessed May 20, 2019.
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