The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Because of its stark, powerful imagery and arguably misanthropic, even nihilistic, overtones, “Hurt Hawks” is probably Robinson Jeffers’s most renowned and frequently anthologized poem. It consists of two numbered parts, of seventeen and fifteen uneven lines, respectively. These two parts are essentially two separate, though closely related, poems. Read in dialectical fashion—as thesis and antithesis—they produce a meaning far greater than the sum.

In part 1 the poet presents, in an objective and distanced way, a red-tail hawk with a hopelessly shattered wing that trails the bird “like a banner in defeat.” The hawk will never fly again, will never hunt nor taste the freedom and power that are its birthright. It awaits the “salvation” of death with what appears to be “intrepid readiness.” Empathizing deeply with the wounded hawk, the poet notes that Nature, the “wild God of the world,” is sometimes merciful to its creatures but “not often to the arrogant”—by whom he doubtlessly means human beings, the “communal people” who do not know or have forgotten that wild God in humanity’s comfortable alienation from Nature. The hawk, “beautiful and wild,” remembers God, as do “men that are dying,” because they are leaving civilization’s cloister and returning, alone, to the natural world that spawned them.

Part 2 begins with one of the most provocative statements in all of modern poetry: “I’d sooner,...

(The entire section is 505 words.)