Galway Kinnell’s poem “The Bear” consists of seven numbered sections of varying lengths that explore the disquieting relationship between the rational and instinctual selves. In the opening section, the speaker adopts the persona of a hunter seeking to “know” and thus pursue his prey, a bear that figuratively represents the primal self. As it progresses, the poem constructs and develops an elaborate metaphor in which the poet compares the spontaneous and untamed corners of the self to its more rational regions, those which infuse raw experience with order and meaning. The poem’s central image, a bear foraging the primeval wilderness for food, represents the unbridled, animalistic self in action. In deliberate contrast, the speaker embodies the rational self, which through the transformative experience of composing a poem seeks to integrate all aspects of consciousness, both reflective and intuitive, into a unified whole.
Despite its markedly introspective subject matter, “The Bear” follows a traditional narrative structure, borrowing as much from the short story as it does from the traditional lyric poem. The opening three sections establish a conflict and its two adversaries—a starving but driven speaker and the elusive wild bear that is for him the source of both physical and emotional sustenance. In section 1 the speaker detects the bear’s proximity, recognizing in “some fault in the old snow” its “chilly, enduring odor.” By...
(The entire section is 521 words.)