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On "Evening Hawk"

Harold Bloom (1984)

[Bloom’s overview of Warren’s career finds its focus on the images of the hawk or hawks repeated over several poems. Among a number of things it represents, the hawk is, Bloom suggests, "an emblem of certainty in pride and honor."]

… ["Evening Hawk"] is surely one of his dozen or so lyric masterpieces, a culmination of forty years of his art.

[Bloom quotes the whole poem.]

The hawk’s emotion is that of a scythe reaping time, but Warren has learned more than his distance from the hawk’s state of being. I know no single line in him grander that the beautifully oxymoronic "the head of each stalk Is heavy with the gold of our error." What is being harvested in our fault, and yet that mistake appears as golden grain. When the poet sublimely cries "Look! Look!" to us, I do not hear a Yeatsian exultation, but rather an acceptance of a vision that will forgive us nothing, and yet does not rejoice in that stance.

From Harold Bloom, "Sunset Hawk: Warren’s Poetry and Tradition," in Harold Bloom, Ed., Modern Critical Views: Robert Penn Warren (New York: Chelsea House, 1986), 203-204.

Calvin Bedient (!984)

Warren’s most strenuous "Platonic" poem, "Evening Hawk," is torn between image and idea. As image, the hawk enshrines the poet’s Nietzschean love of heroism: as idea, it is the Platonic Good, the Platonic True. The poem attempts to break into allegory with

Look! Look! He is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor Error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

The poet cannot know all this except by wanting to believe it; here the mind ceases to be wholly realist, universal, and manly and becomes sharply, universally judgmental.

With its rhythmical loveliness – an evening lull quickened by hawk-motions – and its unrepentent sensory vividness, which triumphs at the end, and most of all the hawk’s animal vigor, the poem stays alive, however fought over from inside. The emotion remains true and intact, because the poet is not contemptuous of vitality per se, but only of vitality that fails. Here, vitality in its full power is consonant with Platonic freedom from death and error.

From Calvin Bedient, "His Varying Stance," Chapter 4 in In The Heart’s Last Kingdom: Robert Penn Warren’s Major Poetry (Cambridge: harvard U P, 1984), 166-167.

John Burt (1988)

Audubon’s birds, this is to say, are the stern celestials Warren himself celebrates in "Evening Hawk" and "The Leaf," those not-angels who know everything but mercy, of which they neither feel nor see the need, and who stand outside of time even as their motion is the motion of time’s ruthlessness. …

The bird of prey is not an emblem by means of which the necessity it embodies may be examined. If it stands for anything it stands for that contempt with which necessity spurns comprehension.

from John Burt, "Audobon and Evasion," Chapter 6 in Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism (New Haven: Yale U P, 1988), 103-104.

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