Explication of "Bushed" by Earle Birney?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Earle Birney's poem "Bushed" contains many different, yet intertwined, meanings.

What one should always do first, when examining a literary piece, is examine the title. "Bushed" can mean a few different things. First, one can be bushed--which means overly tired. Second, one can be in bushes (the shrubs or bushy plant life which is typically found in the wild).

The opening line of the poem foreshadows a negative end. The rainbow was created by God (who used it to symbolize that the earth would never be destroyed by water again). The rainbow is immediately destroyed by a lightning bolt.

The second stanza tells about the man detailed in the poem. He is alone, a trapper out on the hunt. Over the rest of the poem, the power of nature is described. The mountain "was clearly alive," "the moon carved unknown totems / out of the lakeshore" and "owls in the beardusky woods derided him." Nature is most certainly taking a stand against the man intending to kill off some of their own.

In the end, the man locks himself in his cabin, awaiting the wrath of nature to come down upon him.

then he knew though the mountain slept the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead

And now he could only
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart.

The poem could be deemed as one of the Naturalistic nature. Naturalists believed that nature was far more powerful than man. No matter what man would do, nature would always rise above and "win." Essentially, the poem speaks to the power of nature, the power of nature over man and man's, eventual, acceptance of this "law."

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Bushed" refers initially to the protagonist's fatigue. He has retreated to the wilderness, exhausted it seems by his previous life. Yet he continues to toil away at making a success of being a man of the mountains, roasting a porcupine's belly and using its quills for a hat. Very soon, though, he realizes that he is a mere interloper, a stranger in a foreign land. Nature is not an object, for him or anyone else; it is a living, breathing entity to which the protagonist must somehow learn to adapt.

Nature in all its majesty begins to assert itself, sending messages "whizzing down every hot morning." However strong he may think he is, the man in the poem is weak by comparison to the mountain. Try as he might, he can never truly adapt himself to his new surroundings; there will always be an unbridgeable gap between himself and nature.

This leads us to a second possible interpretation of the poem's title. Just as the sole character has evolved, so too has the meaning of "bushed." Now he has been completely submerged by his natural environment. But there is no sentimental oneness here, no pantheistic unity of man and nature; the natural world is the dominant partner in this relationship. He is in nature, but not of it. 

pashti | Student

Thank you

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