Forty minutes after midnight still counts as Saturday.
Also, I wrote this entry in a different format than the last by breaking my thoughts into lists, paragraph by paragraph. I hope this makes it somewhat easier to read.
That aside, here we go:Evening Hawk by Robert Penn Warren
Pop quiz time!
-a) What do the first stanza of "Evening Hawk" and the eighth stanza of "At Roane Head" have in common?
-b) What do you call a sentence in which the main idea comes at the end?
-c) What is a periodic sentence?
If you answered
-a) They are both periodic sentences.
-b) A periodic sentence (or "see c")
-c) A sentence in which the main idea comes at the end (or "see b")
then you win a bunny.
(the one on the left, that is. Cuddles is mine.)
If you recall my droning from last week, a periodic sentence serves to create tension, to build anticipation. The fact that one comes immediately at the beginning of the poem should hint somewhat at its atmosphere, along with Warren's word choice.
Though accompanied by "light" shining in "plane[s]" and "above pines," there are a number of negative words. We have "sunset," a time of endings and encroaching darkness, as well as "black" and "shadow," which tie in with the approach of night. Then we have "tumultuous," a word of noise and chaos that, like "guttural," has a harsh, low sound.
Consider also the somewhat more neutral words, like "plane," "geometries," and "angularity." The math words, I should say. Think of math- how does it make you feel? Chances are, you didn't feel warm and fluffy and happy- quite the opposite, maybe. Math is something logical and emotionless, and presenting the word "geometries" alongside "angularities" introduces a sharpness as well. A wedge is an angle, and a knife is a wedge. (And if you did feel warm and fluffy and happy at the thought of math, you are weird
and I understand
I should comment on two seemingly out-of-place words- "avalanche" and "orchids." Avalanche (cue FFVII memories) in particular is used oddly- it refers not to an avalanche of stones, or anything physical, but to an avalanche of light that is somehow "tumultuous." Loud. Chaotic. Neither of which really come to mind with light. In this way, the poem gains a feel of the unreal, and whatever positive connotations light might have are canceled out. Even the light has become negative- it is falling chaotically as night approaches, implying a breakdown of order.
"Orchids," too, is out-of-place in that it is placed in a context it doesn't fit in normally- in addition to the fact that the word usually isn't seen in a negative description of the sunset, it's also placed next to the word "geometries." Orchids have organic, curvy shapes, and are soft. While it makes sense that geometry could describe an orchid, it clashes with the sharpness of "angularities." This creates a momentary double-take, a jarring of the senses that matches the chaotic feel of the stanza. As exotic flowers, orchids also bring a sense of the strange and foreign to the stanza.
Allow me also to comment on the way the lines are broken in this stanza. Most of them are broken in the middle of a thought, without a comma or any other mark at the end- for example, "The last tumultuous avalanche of / Light above pines [...]". This is a technique called enjambment
- by slicing the line off mid-thought, Warren does several things. He firstly makes the poem less orderly, matching the scene he creates. Secondly, he creates a tumbling rhythm that sucks readers from one line to another, as if they had no control. Lastly, at the end of each enjambed line, he leaves the reader just enough time for them to draw their own assumptions before altering those assumptions in the next line, sometimes jarringly so. You'll see this continue through the rest of the poem.
At the very end of all this detail is an extremely simple statement: "The hawk comes." This simplicity only serves to make this last, foreboding image all the more intense. There is no need for ornate description- the scene speaks for itself. The hawk comes.
The next stanza is rather odd at the beginning- it starts with a huge indent, one that almost lines up with "The hawk comes," serving as a transition from one short line to another. The rhythm of this stanza is notable as well- read it aloud, and you'll notice the lines hitting a pause near the end. It's much like the motion of waves sweeping out, or drawing back in, or a scythe- the scythe of the hawk's wing. It reaps time not erratically, like the avalanche, but like a "honed steel-edge"- efficient and masterful. In the tumult of the end of day, the hawk rises above it all as a being of cold order.
I should also mention the paradox in the final two lines of that stanza. The stalks fall "crashless," yet we can hear them. It creates a dissonance much like the image of the avalanche of light- the world becomes unreal, and our senses become unreliable. Reason dissolves into chaos.
The third stanza is only one line. It is also, for me, one of the most remarkable. For the first time we see ourselves, humanity, pulled in. We were observers before, but now we are pulled in and made part of the picture- or rather, our errors are.
There's firstly the paradox of our errors being portrayed as gold- something precious. However, this is also paired with the fact that this gold makes the heads of each stalk "heavy." We can tie this to human heads also being heavy, bowed in grief and supplication.
The heads of wheat are described as golden by countless writers. This type of gold, however, is not portrayed as burdening their stalks- they sway and dance in the wind. The gold here is implied to burden each stalk- remember as well that gold is an especially heavy metal. Thus, you could say that the natural, nourishing gold of wheat has been replaced by something unnatural and weighty, emotionally as well as physically. And then there's all the negative connotations associated with gold...
Finally, note that instead of writing "the stalks' heads," Warren writes "the head of each stalk." This phrasing makes it clearer that every single stalk is burdened by gold- our error is universal.
How many times have you read a poem (usually a Romantic one) that entreated the reader to look at something in some way? That's how the next stanza opens, but in light of the earlier passages, it takes on a despairing note. All we can do is watch as the hawk rises- we are in no position to save ourselves.
It has already been established that the hawk is, or represents, a creature of order and surreal power. Here, it climbs the "last light," further showing its sovereignty. It is something greater than the day and the sun, both of which fade as it rises.
There's a nifty little parallel to the previous stanzas in the next line- the hawk knows neither "Time" nor "error." It, in fact, rules over time by slicing each day away. It is immortal- something above humanity and therefore human error. This parallelism only serves to further set the hawk off against the flawed, mortal world.
It follows, therefore, that the hawk would be in a position to pass judgement upon the world. Verdict: "unforgiven," with the repetition of the word only driving home the point. After all, the passing of time is unforgiving, unrelenting, and time after time, people make mistakes again and again. The hawk, orderly and immortal, soars above as the world "swings" (implying an uncontrollable movement as well as something cyclical- think also of the swinging of a pendulum) into "shadow."
An odd calm follows after this despair in the penultimate stanza. As with the second stanza, there's a large indent in the first line that serves to pull us from the previous stanza. Likewise, the rhythm of the second stanza reappears- that slow, steady sweep, the sweep of a reaper's scythe.
The calmness here primarily comes from the words "cruises" (an easy, smooth movement) and "steady" in conjunction with a "star." Stars, after all, served to show sailors the way home- a steady star means no deception, a clear path.
There's a focus upon the past in this stanza, and some of the mathematical images find their way back. There's firstly the mention of "hieroglyphics" and Plato- in addition to invoking the ancient Egyptians, the former word introduces a sense of mysticism. Plato connotes reason- here, paired with a steady star, and following the positive "immense," "ancient," and "wisdom," he serves to light a path.
The bat is described as having great wisdom "too." Assuming this "too" refers to the hawk, it can be argued that the bat represents a calmer power- one that withstands the passing of time, but preserves the past sharply and clearly. It flies through the darkness despite not seeing well.
There's almost a sense of hope here. However, the word "last" shows up not once, but twice- first in reference to a thrush that is "still," connoting something deathlike, and then in reference to the bat. There is great wisdom here, but it is finite.
Which leads, at last, to the last stanza, and perhaps the most memorable lines.
Firstly, the wind. In the way it's used, it implies something noisy- the air is not still despite the calmness of the previous stanza. Chaos still exists. Not all is right.
Grind- implies difficulty of movement, perhaps with pain- the grinding of arthritic joints. A leaky pipe- we may not see it in the darkness, nor hear it over the wind, but again, not all is right. And it will, unfixed, only get worse.
The last stanza, and especially the last two lines, don't really need much explanation, I feel. They speak for themselves. A quiet, but powerful ending to one of my favorite poems, if not the
Thanks for reading!