As I thumbed through pages in a book that I had found in the local library,
containing a collection of selected poems by Robert Penn Warren, a particular
poem caught my eye; Warren had written the poem in 1975, and he had entitled
it, "Evening Hawk." The title is what had caught my eyes, and the
words automatically had me picturing the predatory bird eying its prey.
The stanza begins with an image of a hawk, soaring through the sky.
From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
In this stanza, Warren makes many references to light, on each line. There
is an emphasis on the shadow that the hawk creates as it becomes "The last
tumultuous avalanche of/Light above pines and the guttural gorge". (5)
It rides the avalanche of light, as if it was riding along the shadow created
by the sunset. Through these words, we can visualize the scene, without having
ever seen neither a hawk nor a sunset before. We move onto the next two stanzas:
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.
The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.
Here Warren suggests that there is more to the hawk than meets our eyes. The
first line of the stanza is nothing but "His wing" (7), bringing the
reader to visualize a hawk's wing. He writes that the wing of the hawk "Scythes
down another day" (8), suggesting that the hawk has a supremacy over time.
The hawk's wings cut down days, as if they were honed blades, and the days crash
down, without sound. The next line, which is a line disconnected from the other
stanzas, is disconnected for a reason. It is the most impressive line in the
poem: "The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error."
(11) In prose, this oxymoronic line simply suggests that what is created, is
the fault of man entirely, however the mistake happens to be gold. Warren then
Look! Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
In this stanza, the hawk is still racing against the shadow looming over the
ground, knowing "neither Time nor error" (13). Apparently, according
to Warren, the hawk is perfect, it knows neither time nor error, and is thus
indifferent to it. The hawk also has an omniscient view of what is below it,
but does not care, and the world is still covered in the shadow nevertheless.
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.
What happened to the hawk in the previous stanzas? A bat had replaced the hawk
in this one. When Warren brings up that the bat cruises in sharp hieroglyphics,
he may be implying that nature can be read by man, but it is difficult to read,
for the pictures don't always convey what they seem to. The final stanza says:
If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
Wind is the very thing that allows the hawk to fly through the air - without
the hawk, thus, we can hear the grinding of the earth and history drip in darkness.