Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Bird” presents the soldier’s view of war and employs three traditional literary themes: reversal of fortune, survival of the unfittest, and the picaresque (or journey). Heinrich, the young musician and miner, must become a soldier (reversal of fortune), and he is able to escape from death and capture (survival of the unfittest) through his songs of flying away like a bird (picaresque).

Freedom is a common thread throughout the poem, set in Germany in the 1940’s. Hans, in the beginning of the poem, longs to be free; this desire is evident also in Heinrich and in the prisoners in the concentration camp. Heinrich as a young man escapes through his music and through his dreams of a bird flying away; later he literally escapes, like a bird.

Although Simpson vividly portrays images to the reader, he does not focus on the characterization; most are flat characters about whom the reader knows little. The people that Heinrich thought he knew were actually veiled to him. For instance, he does not expect to find the body of the colonel with “[a] pistol by his head.” Heinrich is also surprised when “He [finds] the Major drinking/ In a woman’s party dress.”

Alienation is typical of many of the characters in the poem. Heinrich does not talk with his mother, who cries; his attempt to contact Hans through a letter is unsuccessful. Heinrich’s officers do not know him. When Heinrich asks to fill the vacancy, they ask to see...

(The entire section is 510 words.)