Study Guide

Hurt Hawks Quotes

  • Man and the Natural World

    […] cat nor coyote
    Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons. (4-5)

    The hawk with his busted wing may look like easy game, but the cat and coyote are wise to his sharp defenses. They might have shortened the hawk's wait, otherwise. A dispassionate line like this puts each animal in perspective. You're either a meal or a diner in this great food chain of life.

    The curs of the day come and torment him
    At distance, […] (10-11)

    You'd have to be a cur, a lowdown mongrel, to kick a bird when he's down, but that's just what they do. Still, they know better than to get too close. With his injury the hawk has almost come down to their level. Almost, but not quite.

    You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
    Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
    Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him. (15-17)

    What an insult. You wouldn't think "communal" could be said with so much dripping scorn. It's like the speaker is calling them sheep or lemmings. By losing their individuality, they lose touch with the wild God. Only when they're dying do they regain a memory of that wildness. This is maybe what this whole section of the poem is leading up to, this statement that divine communion usually is only available to people in the moment when they are dying. Unless of course you're a wild individualist like the speaker, himself.

    I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk (18)

    You heard it. He cares more for the wild predator than his own species. Good thing there are laws (penalties) or some heads might have rolled. This is a pretty radical statement. Most people put humans at the top of the pyramid, but not this speaker. This makes what he has to do all the more awesome (in the old sense of the word).

    I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. (25)

    A gift? Is the hawk thinking, "oh you shouldn't have?" This killing is made to sound both direct (look at all those single syllables) and, well, poetic. "Lead gift" is a euphemism for the shot that kills this bird. And doesn't everything seem nicer if it happens at twilight? After the build-up, after knowing that the speaker would sooner kill a man than do this act, he now makes it a gift. The hawk had been asking for it (not begging, though!). What else had given? Freedom, the speaker says. This is the final liberation.

  • Spirituality

    He stands under the oak-bush and waits
    The lame feet of salvation; […] (6-7)

    This speaker describes salvation as having "lame feet," or feet that don't work right. This word helps remind you of the hawk's own impairment, but also suggests how time drags while this hawk waits for death to save him. The "salvation" has religious overtones (or is it undertones? Some kind of tones) that harmonize with "the redeemer" of line 11.

    no one but death the redeemer will humble that head, (11)

    This might seem like sacrilege to the devout, but here the speaker is saying that death is not just a redeemer, but the redeemer. What does he mean? Redeem in the usual sense can mean a lot of things (exchange, fulfill, return, rescue), but in the Christian sense it means to save from sin. The redeemer is usually seen as Jesus Christ who is said to have died for our sins. But here we're thinking he's talking less about spiritual redemption from sins, and more about relief from suffering.

    The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
    That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant. (13-14)

    Who or what is the wild God of the world? Are there many gods, wild and otherwise? Why does the speaker use this phrase? It sounds as though he wants to put some distance between orthodox religions and his spirituality. This is the god of the church of crag and creature. And a lot hinges on that word "sometimes." There's no guarantee you're going to get mercy if you ask for it, but you've got a better shot than if you're arrogant. This god is wild, and that makes him unpredictable, too.

    You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
    Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
    Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him. (15-17)

    Who knows this wild god? Not you "communal" people certainly. Now who's being a hater? With this line, the speaker shifts the discussion from the hawk to "you," your family, your neighborhood, maybe your whole town. What's the problem with being communal? It's as if he's saying that once people joined together in a civilization, they lost touch with their own wild spirits, the part that's "intemperate and savage." Only on your deathbed will you remember this intemperate, savage, beautiful god. Now that's something to look forward to, at least.

    What fell was relaxed,
    Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
    Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
    Before it was quite unsheathed from reality. (25-28)

    What the what? On the instant this hawk is, um, given the "lead gift" (talk about a euphemism) he is divided into what and what. "What fell" is the material of his shed body, the soft, feminine feathers. "[W]hat soared" is the spirit, unsheathed like a sword (notice the pun), but formless—just a fierce rush.

  • Suffering

    The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
    The wing trails like a banner in defeat, (1-2)

    Squeamish Shmoopers might want to look away from these lines. Although couched in poetic words ("broken pillar" and such), this hawk's wound is straight up gnarly. What's a hawk with a wing that destroyed? A goner, is what. His spirit may still be fighting, but the wing signals the ultimate defeat.

    No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
    And pain a few days […] (3-4)

    What a contrast, right? The sky forever or a few days of pain and famine. Life for a hawk is vast, free, and oh so infinite. But injury grounds him, cuts his days down to a few, his experience to famine and pain. These last days are going to stink, big time.

    He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse. (9)

    The bigger they are, the harder they fall. You get used to living large, so it's a blow to be so reduced to pain and incapacity.

    […] but the great redtail
    Had nothing left but unable misery
    From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved. (18-20)

    Is the speaker making a case to ease his guilt for having to kill this bird? It sounds like it. If it's true that all this animal had left was "unable misery," and there was no other way, you can't fault him, but you can tell the speaker feels terrible for having to do the dirty deed.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    […] at night he remembers freedom
    And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it. (7-8)

    Flight is the very image of freedom: all that open air, and the wind beneath your (literal, in this case) wings. Ask anybody what their favorite dream is, and it's the flying one, right? No wonder the bird gets to relive his former glory days in his dreams. But, of course, the truth of dawn smacks reality in his little avian face.

    We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
    He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, (22-23)

    What can you give an animal that pretty much symbolizes freedom? When he's injured, and has lost it, you can give him the freedom to roam—in death.

    […] but what
    Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
    Before it was quite unsheathed from reality. (26-28)

    "Unsheathed from reality," this hawk's spirit rushes out so startling and fierce that the night-herons scream. It's finally freed from its lame duck body, and it gets to fulfill that flying dream forever in death.