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In Galway Kinnel's poem "The Bear," the speaker describes the process of hunting a bear. First, he sees proof of a bear having been near his home, so he sharpens a wolf's rib at both ends, freezes it within fat, which a bear would want to eat, and leaves the rib for the bear to find. This way, when the bear eats it, it will be left wounded, making it easier to track. he speaker waits until the bear takes the bait, and then he tracks the splashes of blood left by the bear, who is now bleeding internally from eating the sharpened wolf's rib.

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After a few days, the speaker begins to starve, so he eats bear scat that is covered in blood. On the seventh day of tracking, the speaker finds the bear, which has died from its injuries. The speaker hacks into the body of the beast and drinks its blood before climbing inside the corpse to fall asleep. He dreams of the bear's life on the tundra and of its demise. The memory of it stays with him forever.

The acts of tracking and killing the bear can be interpreted as the speaker's attempt to pursue his own animal life force, to inhabit and experience it. As humans, people are often encouraged to think of themselves as fundamentally different from other animals, despite their similarities.

However, the poem could also be an allegory of the speaker's feelings regarding writing and reading poetry. The poem is something living, something that exists outside oneself, and it requires steady study. The speaker can track the words and following the poem's meanings until he manages to get inside it, so to speak. In the poem's final lines, the speaker refers to the poetry by which he lives, comparing it to the rank flavor of blood. Poetry is vital to him, as is blood.

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Themes