In Stephen Dunn's poem "Hawk," how is the hawk significant, how can a reader justify considering it as a symbol, and what does it symbolize?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Stephen Dunn’s poem titled “Hawk” clearly seems to treat the bird mentioned in its title as a symbol.  The mere fact that Dunn spends so much time, effort, and space describing the bird suggests that he is doing more than writing about one particular hawk. Like many lyric poets, Dunn seems to be focusing on this particular bird as a symbol of something (or some things) other than itself. Now the question is “what might the hawk symbolize”? The poem provides various clues. ·         The hawk may partially symbolize the unpredictable and dangerous nature of life, as its crash into the speaker’s window suggests (4-7). ·         The hawk may partially symbolize the resilience of living things and their natural yearning for freedom and independence, since the hawk,
. . .  not dead, got up   dazed, and in minutes was gone. (8-9)
  ·         The hawk may partially symbolize the distinctions between humans and nature, since the speaker proclaims of the hawk that “this is its sky, this is its woods” (11). ·         The hawk may partially symbolize the fact that creatures which seem, in some senses, beautiful and admirable nevertheless obey natural instincts, such as the instinct to kill and eat smaller creatures, as when the speaker mentions “The tasty small birds it [that is, the hawk] loves” (12). ·         The hawk and its relation to the small birds may partially symbolize humans and their relations to God or to the powers that massively affect their lives, as when the speaker says that the small birds
have seen their God and know the suddenness of such love as we know lightning or flash flood. (13-15)
  In short, the hawk may plausibly symbolize many different meanings, and lines such as the ones just quoted seem to justify regarding the hawk as symbolic.  In these lines, after all, the speaker himself invites us to regard the hawk in symbolic terms, and the same can be said of the poem as a whole.


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