Joy Harjo is most comfortable writing about issues close to her heart which include women's rights, her cultural and spiritual connection to all things natural, and the very real but intangible sacred bond between the landscape, animals and life. She uses her own experiences as the daughter of Creek Indian and Cherokee French parents to express her own struggles and the difficulties that others like her may experience. She is an advocate for women's issues and in her compilation entitled In Mad Love and War, from which Eagle Poem originates, she expresses strong emotions and vivid descriptions relating to political issues, murder, and tradition as they exist between "love" and "war."
In "Eagle Poem", the last book in the collection, there is a longing for freedom of expression and for "one whole voice that is you." Harjo wants to share the fact that, in keeping with her use of the eagle as a symbol, there is more to life than meets the eye and that readers must continue searching in "circles of motion," on a quest for the truth and for a satisfaction which can only be found through reaching within oneself. Life must not be wasted and an eagle is a perfect example of the enduring quality, strength, and mystery that is to be found if readers try. The eagle, Harjo's personal "Eagle," is the connection between man on earth and man's spiritual potential. Eagle has the ability to sweep "our hearts clean," and, as long as we are sincere, we can "pray that it will be done," without too much pain - "in beauty" despite the harshness of life.
The central metaphor in the poem is one that suggests language is a circle of motion or that meaning is communicated, articulated or otherwise manifested in circles of motion.
While engaging in prayer, the individual realizes that the "voice that is you" is not contained in the self, but is un-contained and exists in the world being witnessed and experienced.
The world, perhaps especially the "natural world," represents a verity or truth that one begins to see when "you open your whole self":
And know there is more
These circles of motion are exemplified by the eagle circling in the sky.
Like eagle that Sunday morningOver Salt River. Circled in blue skyIn wind, swept our hearts cleanWith sacred wings.
Breathe in, knowing we are made ofAll this.
Essentially, the main idea of the poem is to set aside daily cares and assumptions and to allow the mind to become receptive and totally responsive. Lines 1-8 build to the image of “circles of motion,” also repeated in line 21; that is, to permit transcendent and unifying elements of the universe to reach one’s spirit. Notice that the speaker does not say “the eagle,” but rather “eagle,” as though the bird is an individual, not a species. The idea is that the world and the universe are alive, not dead, and that all things in it are beings that make life sacred. Eagle makes a circle high in the blue sky (line 11), a symbol of continuity and perfection because a circle has no beginning and no ending, and therefore is infinite like the universe. The repeated phrase emphasizes the conclusion.
The Eagle is a free verse poem written in 1990 by Joy Harjo. Joy Harjo was a female poet who frequently incorporated Native American Mythology into her writing. The poem "The Eagle" was first published in her best known volume In Mad Love and War.
Joy Harjo begins the poem by talking about the vulnerability of prayer. All deepest wishes are said to be offered up into Nature for some divine power to hear and answer. But the poem continues saying that these wishes aren't just floating into thin air. There is something supernatural that we cannot see of hear. But we know by instinct that there is something out there. This instinct isn't logical, it isn't spoken in any language, but it is understood by all.
The poem also mentions "Circles of motion". Throughout literature a circle has represented perfection, timelessness, and supernatural power. The poem continues to launch into a spectacular metaphor comparing prayer to an eagle circling in the sky. The eagle's wings sweep across our hearts relieving our tensions and sorrows.
The irony of the poem is that it itself is written as a kind of prayer.This idea of eagles circling in the sky leaves behind a kind of soothing sense like the poem says prayer does.