Sep 27, 2011

Robert Penn Warren, "Evening Hawk"

Evening Hawk- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

To my ear, eye, and mind, the last two stanzas of Robert Penn Warren’s “Evening Hawk” save the poem. I want to share Warren’s exuberant reverence for the bird—the soaring predator and his landscape—but Warren gets a bit grandiose for me. 

Here are just a few examples:  “the peak’s black angularity,”  “last tumultuous avalanche of/Light,”  “the guttural gorge,”  “His wing/Scythes down another day,”  “Look!  Look!  he is climbing the last light.”

And so forth. Any one of these images could be wonderful, a bold stroke; but as a whole, they feel well over the top to me. 

So does this: “The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.”  

Warren thinks this line is grand enough to be its own stanza (I’m tempted to say its own religious text).

I too find hawks thrilling, perhaps because I don’t see many of them, perhaps because of their size and grace, or because of their vision, or because of their skill at killing, or the height of their perspective and the ideas we have about height. But to see them as some kind of celestial judge or marker of time (make that Time, capitalized) strikes me as a bit loud, excessive. 

In the last two stanzas, however, I yield. Even if I think the images and ideas might be grandiose, they are so thought-provoking and original that I cannot resist them. Behold:  

“The last thrush is still,” the last bat flies in “sharp hieroglyphics” and in “ancient wisdom.”  The star is “like Plato, over the mountain.” 

And then, finally, there we are, we small humans: "If there were no wind we might, we think, hear . . ."

But there is wind, so we don’t hear. What we think is wrong or irrelevant, for we hear little or nothing of what we need to absorb. Maybe because it’s too large to seem relevant, or too frightening to accept, we fail to hear

     The earth grind on its axis, or history
     Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
I’m awed that Warren has had not only the perceptiveness and creativity to see hawk, earth, and humans in these unusual ways, but also the courage to say so.  Or is it just arrogance? In any case, he had to know that when it comes to elegant restraint, he was pushing the limit, if not pulverizing it. Apparently he feels he must—must—go on and say what he’s seen, what he believes, and everything in between.



Anonymous said...

I'm positive he came up with the last image first, then built the poem around it.

To me, the trick was too obvious, I saw his lips move. But as for hawks, we see them daily here, and they're still a miracle.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I wouldn't argue. "I saw his lips move"--I like that a lot. I'm pretty sure Keats and Yeats, among dozens of others, said that poetry must SEEM natural, though it is artifice and the product of much labor. Ventriloquism, anyone?

I continue to think poets and stand-up comics have a lot in common, naked and alone, going for the right subjects, the right timing, the right music, the convincing illusion of a real person speaking naturally, never mind the obvious presence of the stage.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Gorgeous images here!

Brenda's Arizona said...

I'm a sucker for imagining the earth grinding on its axis. Can't you just picture a globe, angled as it must be for the season, and hawks flying around??

Is RPW an acquired taste or is this one of his more haughty/lofty poems?

Banjo52 said...

Hannah, I agree, of course.

Brenda, it's been several years since I've read enough of Warren to respond to your nice, big question. My memory/impression has him as a poet who'd not afraid to ramble a bit, but I'm loading the dice when I say that, aren't I. His images strike me as more often interesting, or even arresting, than a lot of other poets who are . . . exuberant, or just word-crazy. His "Mortal Limit," also about a hawk, was posted here April 19, 2010, and it's a sonnet--probably more controlled than "Evening Hawk" but I’d say just as compelling.

Also, Brenda, I do find myself sometimes trying to pull back and see humans on our tilting planet from the long view. It's daunting but fascinating. How do astronomers, geologists, physicists maintain any perspective that resembles sanity? How do they buy groceries or tie their shoes, given what they've seen and to some extent understood?

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