The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
- This bird's got a busted wing. We got the heads up from the title that we'd be dealing with a hurt hawk, and here it is.
- But look how it's described. "The broken pillar" is a metaphor that makes you think of architectural ruins, something crafted out of marble, maybe. Is that the bone?
- With the word "jags" we can see the bone jutting out from the flesh. Ouch.
- "Clotted" makes you think of blood clots. So now we see the bone jutting out of a blood clotted shoulder. Yuck.
- This is not exactly the most beautiful of images. But hey, it certainly sets a mood.
- And all of these sharp consonant sounds (broken, jags, clotted)? They totally add to the violence of the injury; you can just feel the sharp edges in this scene.
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
- Now we can see the wing in greater detail. It's just hanging loosely off the hawk, barely even attached.
- Jeffers drops a simile on us with that whole banner business. This image might be doing double duty here. Not only does it show how ruined the wing is, but it also might show us the color—white, like a flag of surrender.
- What's a hawk without his wings? Out of luck, for sure. This poem is not exactly of the uplifting variety. At least so far.
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: […]
- This bird will never fly again. Shmoopers, you know what that means: he'll never eat again either. His life last days are only pain. His proverbial goose is cooked.
- Although most of this poem is written in free verse, these lines are more classically iambic (No more to use the sky forever). The rhythm adds heaviness and seriousness to this bird's doom.
[…] cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
- There are plenty of animals roaming around looking for food, but this guy isn't an easy meal. Neither cat nor coyote (check out that alliteration) wants its face scratched off by those razor sharp talons. He may not be able to fly, but this hurt hawk still can kick some serious butt.
- Would shortening the week be better? Is that implied? Is the bird wishing the cat or coyote would put him out of one week's misery? Is the speaker? It's a definite (if depressing) possibility.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; […]
- So there he is, our hawk, waiting under the oak-bush. He's waiting for death, which is described, oddly enough, as "the lame feet of salvation." Say what?
- We know his feet aren't lame, though his wing is. The word alone stands (pardon the pun) as a reminder. So what could be meant by "the lame feet of salvation"? Maybe it means that whatever might be coming to save him from his suffering is slowed down, as if lame. It doesn't happen fast enough for him. He wishes death (and therefore salvation) would hurry on up.
[…] at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
- While sleeping, the hurt hawk is free to fly in his dreams. But when he wakes up, he smells the coffee. He's not going anywhere.
- For a hawk, flight equals freedom and survival. It's in his blood. If he's injured, like this one, flying is not an option.
- And that's very bad news. Sure, he can fly all he wants in his dreams, but dawn will always come and wake him back to reality. Bummer, dude.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
- The bigger they are, the harder they fall. At least, that's what they say, right? Because this bird has been so high and mighty, his current, injured state is all the more painful. He was once able to do just about anything. And now he's stuck on the ground, just waiting for death.
- It's hard not to think that the speaker is describing more than just a bird here. Doesn't it sound like he could be talking about human beings, too? You know the type: the folks who experience massive success and then crash and burn? Their failure seems all the more painful because of that massive success.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, […]
- The hawk can't fly off, so now he's got to death with the fact that mongrel dogs are lurking around, threatening him. But hey, the hawk's still got those talons, so like the cats and coyotes (with the same C sound), the curs know to steer clear for now.
- In the word "curs" you can hear "curse," which reminds us of the fatal injury this poor hawk has suffered.
[…] no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
- Nobody can take the hawk but death. He's that macho. Even injured, this guy is fierce and fearless—curs be darned. One look at his eyes, and you can see he's not going to roll over. He's pretty frightening, even like this.
- Notice the assonance and alliteration here. All those short E sounds (death, head, intrepid, readiness, terrible), combined with the H sounds in "humble head" really add to the rhythm of the line.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
- You're not going to find this speaker on a pew on Sunday. He worships at the church of the hurt hawk. There might be one civilized god who appears to people in their Sunday best, but this wild God of the world exists in nature.
- Catchy name, isn't it? Catchy enough to become the name of a collection of Jeffers poems, we'd say
- But like the god of church sermons, this one's more forgiving to those who ask for mercy. He might just give you an easy death, if you asked nicely.
- But our hawk is more honeybadger than Dudley Do-Right. This hawk is above all that mercy business. He's totally arrogant (so much for that humble business from line 11).
- This hawk won't be humbled until his dying moment. The irony is that had been more humble—had he asked for mercy—he might have had an easier/quicker exit.
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.
- Is he talking to you? This is the first time the speaker addresses a "you" and it's not very flattering, is it? The speaker says you've forgotten the wild god. Harsh, dude.
- As a fierce individualist, this speaker's scorn for the sheep-like group that "you" apparently belong to is front and center.
- When he says, "intemperate and savage," he's referring to the hawk, but he's also describing this wild God. Lines in poetry can read backwards and forwards, like now. This hawk is kind of like an avatar of this wild god.
- Maybe he's saying that the communal people, so accustomed to living in a group, have lost their nature, have forgotten their wildness—and the awesomeness that goes with.
- "Beautiful and wild" is another phrase that attaches to the god, the hawks, and the dying men. You can tell by those commas: "him; beautiful and wild, the hawks, and the men that are dying." The three belong to the beautiful and wild club.
- The cadence or rhythm of this section sounds almost like a sermon, with its repeated phrasing about forgetting and remembering. You know the speaker is saying what he really thinks and feels to be true.
- This section ends here. We don't see the very end of this hurt hawk's life, but we know it's coming, asked for, or not.