Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275
There are two main interpretations of "The Bear," one being that the speaker's tracking of the bear is a metaphor for getting in touch with and embracing the speaker's animal nature. The other interpretation is that the bear and the speaker's tracking of it is an allegory for the relationship between the speaker and poetry.
If tracking the bear is read metaphorically, then the bear represents a side of the speaker that he wants to explore by actually engaging and interacting with an animal as another animal might. His pursuit of the bear is his effort to connect with his own animal spirit. The tension between human rationality and animal instinct plagues the speaker, and it is only by combining his human ingenuity—as when he tricks the bear with the sharpened bones—with his animalistic fervor—as when he tracks the bear by eating its blood scat—that he is able to fell the beast and reconcile the two sides of himself.
However, the poem can also be read as an allegory for the relationship between the speaker and poetry. The final lines, which would seem to link poetry to the bear's blood, suggest that a poet must engage with his topic in such a seemingly visceral way in order to write well. Perhaps the bear is a metaphor for the poem's subject itself: in order to be understood, it must be figuratively tasted, opened up, and minutely explored. However, the understanding is always imperfect; no matter how hard the speaker tries, he can never truly become the bear. Instead, he must content himself with dreaming about its life and briefly inhabiting its form.