"Evening Hawk" by Robert Penn Warren
From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.
The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.
Look! Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.
If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
2006 Poem “Evening Hawk” (Robert Penn Warren)
Robert Penn Warren’s poem, “Evening Hawk,” relies heavily on imagery and description to convey the mood and meaning of the work. The language and techniques—i.e., imagery, metaphor, simile, diction—employed in this piece thoroughly describe the scene. Warren’s choice of highly symbolic and descriptive words, inclusion of metaphors and similes, and abundant visuals also enhance the conveyance of the poem’s significance.
Imagery, as mentioned above, is easily the most conspicuous and important vessel for mood and meaning in “Evening Hawk.” The visual imagery that Warren includes sets the scene: a hawk is gliding through the evening in a very natural setting, as the sun sets on the world. The imagery is also layered; many of the visuals are symbolic of something relating to the passage of time, human nature/error, and history.
The hawk itself appears to be a metaphor; perhaps representing time or the evening itself. This extended metaphor runs alongside quite a few other metaphors in the poem. The passage of time is a major part of this poem’s significance, and metaphors such as the hawk’s wing being a scythe that cuts down the day communicate this quite effectively. Similes, like metaphors, are used as very visual comparisons in this poem. For example, in the last stanza, the speaker states, “we might,…hear…history Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.” The poem compares the abstract elements of the poem (namely the passage of time) to more familiar ideas (the hawk, a scythe, a leaky pipe) via its metaphors and similes. By doing this, one can not only easier fathom such intangible things, but also gather deeper meaning as s/he relates something such as time to a tangible, symbolic object.
Warren’s diction in the poem is intelligent, and he chooses words that are highly symbolic. The word choice reinforces the fact that the body of the poem is imagery-laden. The first stanza establishes the setting: “dipping through Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds, Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding The last tumultuous avalanche of Light above pines and the guttural gorge…” The third stanza also establishes the philosophical, meditative mood of the poem (“…he is climbing the last light Who knows neither Time nor error, and under Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings Into shadow.”).