Study Guide

Hurt Hawks Themes

  • Man and the Natural World

    Take the Man out of Mankind, and what are you left with? If you asked Robinson Jeffers, he would have said that Man is much too full of himself, to the point where he can't even see or appreciate nature and the rest of the world. Jeffers adopted a philosophy that he called Inhumanism. Basically he thought people should get over themselves and should view the world more objectively, with the detachment of, well, a hawk. Sure, that's pretty heady stuff, but you really can feel Jeffers' reverence for life's beauty and vastness in nearly all of his poems, and especially in "Hurt Hawks."

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. In what ways does this poem represent Jeffers' philosophy of Inhumanism and in what ways does it contradict that philosophy?
    2. How are these two hawks and the speaker's response to them in each stanza different? What qualities do they share?
    3. Is this hawk meant to reflect human nature? If so, in which ways?
    4. What's your totem animal and why?

    Chew on This

    The speaker should not have interfered with the natural order of things.

    The speaker was right to do what he could to put the second hawk out of its misery.

  • Spirituality

    With all that hippy "One World One Love" stuff still decades on the horizon, Jeffers made this declaration: "the expression of a religious feeling, that perhaps must be called pantheism, though I hate to type it with a name. It is the feeling […] that the world, the universe, is one being, a single organism, one great life that includes all life and all things; and is so beautiful that it must be loved and reverenced; and in moments of mystical vision we identify ourselves with it." If that's not a spiritual statement, then we don't know what is.

    And here's the thing: you can see this sentiment up and down, backwards and forwards, in every line of "Hurt Hawks." Why else would the speaker be so obsessed with the hawk, if he didn't feel one with it on some level.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. How would you describe the wild God of this poem? What qualities does this god possess? And how can you tell?
    2. Why might men who are dying be reminded of the wild God? Does that make them like the hawk in any way?
    3. Why would God grant mercy to those who ask for it and not otherwise? What might that say about the nature of mercy?

    Chew on This

    Each creature has its own relationship with God, and that's what this poem is all about.

    Jeffers reminds us that in forming communities, men have lost touch with their own spirits.

  • Suffering

    The title waves the suffering flag. These hawks are hurt, and that's all we need to know. But what's really impressive here is how these wild animals, inflicted with a mortal injury, keep their spirit, maybe even revealing it all the more. Sure, this poem is about "Hurt Hawks" on a literal level, but they stand as examples to us, who might have lost track of our own wild spirits and the "intemperate and savage" God that can keep us strong through our own suffering.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. Why do you think the speaker helps the hawk in the second stanza, but not the hawk in the first? Is there a difference in their suffering?
    2. Do you agree that pain and defeat is worse for the strong, like the hawk? Why or why not?
    3. How do the gory details of the first lines create the mood for this poem?

    Chew on This

    Euthanasia is an act of respect and mercy, so the speaker in the second stanza did right by the hawk.

    Euthanasia is another example of humans acting like God. Bad move, speaker.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    A hawk is pretty much the poster child for freedom. Oh, to be able to soar high above mere earthlings, effortlessly shifting direction with a flick of your flighty feathers. After knowing that kind of feeling, just imagine how it would feel to be grounded… permanently. Injuries to wild animals signal the worst kind of confinement. They spell the end with a capital E.

    Jeffers uses the two "Hurt Hawks" as an occasion to talk about the freedom of spirit trapped within the material of the body and kept down by some idea of community. According to the speaker, one of freedom's most important qualities is independence, and you can have that only when the strong spirit is united with a strong, whole body.

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. Can a human ever be as free as an animal? Why or why not?
    2. How do the concepts of salvation, redemption, and freedom relate in this poem? That sure is a lot of abstraction in a poem that promises to be about hawks. What connections can you make between these ideas?
    3. What is it about living with other people in a community that conflicts with freedom, at least, according to Jeffers?

    Chew on This

    To Jeffers, freedom is the ultimate human value. Not even community responsibility can trump it.

    In the end, according to Jeffers, the only thing that can really end our freedom is our bodies finally crapping out.