Hawks rule, and don't you forget it.
Picture a hawk. What do you see? You are probably imagining a mighty predator flying high, surveying the field with its incredibly acute vision, ready to swoop down on its prey with its sharp beak and talons. It's the contrast between that image and the mortally injured hawks described in "Hurt Hawks" that packs this poem's punch.
Robinson Jeffers rocked the world when in this poem, published at the height of Jeffers' powers and popularity in 1928, he says "I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk." Not only does Jeffers make it perfectly clear that he's siding with animals over humans, he's saying he's ready to look upon the worst possible crime with a cool (dare we say hawk-like) eye. Not bad for a guy who took his nickname for a much less ferocious bird, Robin.
Through this and his other poems, Jeffers became known as the quintessential Californian poet. Carl Sandburg said once that Jeffers was " bigger than Balboa" because he "rediscovered and immortalized the Pacific." We totally agree.
You know those quizzes on Facebook that will tell you what your totem animal is? Jeffers wouldn't have had to answer more than one or two questions before his answer would flash on the screen: Hawk. No doubt about it.
To understand just how much Jeffers identified with hawks, you've got to get to know the guy's life a bit. He and his wife Una loved the quiet life, so they picked out the perfect storm-swept outcrop over Carmel-by-the-Sea to build Tor House. Pretty much single-handedly, Jeffers hefted huge rocks up the hill from the beach to build Hawk Tower. From that craggy height, Jeffers could look out at the sea and watch hawks swoop over the landscape.
So yeah, hawks were kind of a big deal to this guy. And you can imagine that a pair of hurt ones might upset him a bit. But here's the thing: this poem isn't just about a pair of injured raptors. It's also about the dangers inherent in the natural world, and the sheer precariousness of our existence. At the end of the day, we're an awful lot like these two hurt hawks—dependent on the whims and mercies of the world to keep us alive.
Hey Look, Robin's Got His Own Association!
This is the go-to for all things Jeffers.
Knock Knock. Who's There?
Tor House looks like Jeffers would if he were a house.
He's Still Got It.
The Academy of American Poets offers a solid overview of the poet's life and work.
Poems Being Read Aloud
So the makers of this won't win any prizes for sound or their photo montage, but it's fun to hear "Hurt Hawks" alongside some of Jeffers' other poems.
Read Along with Robin
You can listen to The Poetry Foundation's recording of Jeffers reading his poem while reading along.
In his introduction, Jeffers explains that there are two hawks—not one.
A Man In His Aerie
There's the hawk of a man, standing at Hawk Tower.
Quoth the Hawk, "Evermore"
Did he have one of those hurt hawks taxidermed?
The Love of his Life
Here's the poet with his wife Una, and a sassy dog:
Jeffers Studies, the Magazine
The Association has a wealth of digital back issues of Jeffers Studies, featuring academic articles.
The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers
Need we say more?
This children's book uses the first 5 lines of this poem as an epigram for Chapter 23, "Kehaar," about a wounded seagull. Sounds about right.
Garth Jeffers Recalls His Father, Robinson Jeffers: Recollections of a Poet's Son
More scoop on our man.
"Rhapsody & Requiem: The Life of Robinson Jeffers"
This reverent documentary on Jeffers life showed on KPIX-TV in 1967. It's old school, but it gets the job done.
Medea (I) (TV 1983)
This is Jeffers' translation of Euripides' classic play. Because why not?