Two Hawks

I meant to get my work done early today, so I could write a proper blog post (because I missed yesterday altogether). But I’m still working. Still trying to catch up. So instead of a proper blog post, you’re going to get two hawks. One of them is in a favorite poem of mine, “Hurt Hawks” by Robinson Jeffers.

Here it is:

I.

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,

No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.

He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.

He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,

The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.

You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.

II.

I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.

We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance.

I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

And here is Robinson Jeffers reading the poem:

I’ve seen hawks many times, of course, flying high above. You can always tell they are hawks: the silhouette is so distinctive. And several times in my life I’ve been privileged to see hawks up close, carried on a leather gauntlet, their jesses held in the fist. It is a privilege, always. After all, these are birds that used to hunt for kings and their retinue. Look a hawk in the eyes, sometimes, and you will realized that it is the perfect predator. Aerodynamic and slightly mad. The eyes will look at you with a mad intensity.

Robinson Jeffers knew hawks, and one of my other favorite writers, T.H. White, knew hawks as well. He wrote one of my favorite books about hawks, The Goshawk, about his futile attempt to train one so it would hunt for him, using a medieval manual of falconry. It chronicles his mistakes, his defeats, his almost always temporary triumphs. It is a book I read every couple of years, because it’s about a man who did something he loved, albeit badly. But he did it with great passion, and books about that sort of thing are always worth reading. And he tells you things that are worth knowing, like the following: “Hawks were the nobility of the air, ruled by the eagle,” and “in the old days, when to understand the manage of a falcon was the criterion by which a gentleman could be recognized – and in those days a gentleman was a defined term, so that to be proclaimed ‘noe gent.’ by a college of arms was equivalent to being proclaimed no airman by the Royal Aero Club or no motorist by the licensing authorities – the Boke of St. Albans had laid down precisely the classes of people to whom any proper-minded member of the Falconidae might belong. An eagle for an emperor, a peregrine for an earl; the list had defined itself meticulously downward to the kestrel, and he, as a crowning insult, was allowed to belong to a mere knave – because he was useless to be trained.”

That’s a very different idea of a hawk, not as wild and free, belonging only to itself, but as another participant in an ordered medieval world where even birds have their ranks.

I’m not sure why I’m thinking of hawks today, except that I see them soaring, wild, free. And I keep that image in my head as I’m doing my work, because I would like to be soaring too, even while I’m desperately trying to catch on on everything. So thinking of the hawks gives me hope that once I’m done with these intensive projects, there will be something better: some blue sky above me, some wind under my winds.

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