The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Bushed” is a free-verse poem in lines of irregular length that convey the experience of a man who succumbs to nature’s intimidating force. The title’s denotations and connotations are all pertinent to the poem’s meaning. In the first place, the title indicates location: the “bush,” which in Canada refers to those vast areas of wilderness remote from human settlement. Second, to be “bushed” is to be exhausted, to be bereft of strength and therefore incapable of countering force with force or even cunning. In this case, it means also in effect to be swallowed up by the “bush,” by the wilderness that, in the man’s mind, seems to lie in wait for its prey and at the moment of greatest vulnerability makes its ambush without mercy. The poem is written from the point of view of an observer who tells the story with both emotional intensity and philosophical detachment.

“Bushed” begins with an observation that foreshadows disaster. “He,” or humankind, “invented a rainbow” and saw in it divine assurance that nature would not ultimately destroy human life. Then nature’s power, through lightning, turned that dream into cold comfort by smashing the rainbow into a mountain lake. At the edge of that lake, far from civilization, a solitary trapper builds himself a shack. He has “learned to roast porcupine belly” and wears the “quills on his hatband.” Soon, however, he senses that he has invaded enemy territory whose...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Earle Birney spent his youth in the Banff area, and thus he became intimately familiar with the awesome presence of the Rockies. Much of his poetry reflects a careful observation of the natural world. That observation is often far from dispassionate. As Northrop Frye observed (in “Canada and Its Poetry,” Canadian Forum 23, 1943,), Birney achieves an “evocation of stark terror” when all the intelligence and cunning of solitary man is pitted against “nature’s apparently meaningless power to waste and destroy on a superhuman scale.” “Bushed” is such a poem.

Terror is evoked primarily through the imagery. Much of the imagery Birney selects is used in Psalm 104 in praise of a beneficent God who is “clothed with splendor and majesty,” who “makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants,” whose “high mountains belong to the goats,” who “touches the mountains and they smoke,” who plants “the cedars of Lebanon,” who “brings darkness, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.” In “Bushed,” however, from the first line to the last, it is not the glory and goodness of God’s nature but its hostile power that impresses the trapper and inexorably reduces him to a cowed victim.

First, there is the imagery of the heavens. According to the biblical story, God vowed after the flood that floods would never again destroy so much life, and then He chose the rainbow as the eternal reminder and warrant of that promise. Hence the rainbow came to symbolize divine reassurance of human safety and security. Here the...

(The entire section is 643 words.)