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Voices of the Headland

Robinson Jeffers and the Bird of Prey


Alan J. Malnar

Voices of the Headland: Robinson Jeffers and the Bird of Prey explores the image of the raptor in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Emanating from the continent’s end of the American West, Jeffers’ poetic eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, and other birds of prey symbolize the compelling presence and voice of nature, a pantheistic universe of beauty and splendor, death and destruction. It is the perilous bird of prey which calls forth the very essence and life-force of Jeffers himself, winging its way through his expansive body of narrative and lyrical verse, a poetry fundamentally anti-social in its vision and primitive in its basic, instinctual surge. Voices of the Headland examines this distinctive imagery from many critical viewpoints.


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Chapter 7. The King and His Hawks


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· 7 ·


The image of a hooded hawk perched on Caesar’s wrist in “Shine Republic” had obviously not been composed for historical authenticity; no evidence in the archive of classical antiquity indicates that the leader of the Republic of Rome had ever been a practitioner of the sport of falconry.1 Rather, the image of Caesar fisting the hooded hawk represents an aesthetic idea:

Freedom is poor and laborious; that torch is not safe but hungry, and often            requires blood for its fuel. You will tame it against it burn too clearly, you will hood it like a kept            hawk, you will perch it on the wrist of Caesar. (CP 2: 417)

For Jeffers, it is the predatory impulse of the hawk that signifies the Occident’s burning desire for a “love of freedom.”2 This instinctual craving like some “stubborn torch” which requires “blood for its fuel” is as ravenous as the hawk’s need to usurp blood to sustain its life. It has always been “a quality of western man”; it runs the course from “Marathon to Concord”—from the great Greek clash in defeat of Persia in 490 BC, to the first battle in the American Revolutionary War in 1775 (CP 2: 417). Hence, this “torch” must be tamed like a hooded hawk; bearers of its nation state must keep it in check, lest it can ignite, at any time, into an incontrollable fire....

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