Monday, 9 January 2012

Day Lewis's hawk

C Day Lewis's poem, 'The Hawk Comes Down From The Air' (1936), starts as Ted Hughesy avant la lettre:
The hawk comes down from the air.
Sharpening his eye upon
A wheeling horizon
Turning scrutiny to prayer.

He guessed the prey that cowers
Below, and learnt to keep
The distance which can strip
Earth to its black contours.

Then trod the air, content
With contemplation till
The truth of valley and hill
Should be self-evident.
The cowers/Below enjambment is a bit clumsy; and the third stanza has the feel of marking time that makes it seem more anticlimactic than it needs to after such a sweeping opening. But then the poem takes a turn for the twee:
Or as the little lark ...
I'll stop there, for a moment, to observe that I don't think there's a poet in the English tradition with the skill to prevent 'Or as the little lark' coming off as soppy.
Or as the little lark
Who veins the sky with song,
Asking from dawn to dark
No revenues of spring:

But with the night descends
Into his chosen tree,
And the famed singer ends
In anonymity.

So from a summer's height
I come into my peace;
The wings have earned their night
And the song may cease.
That ending, retrogressing from Hughes to Newman or indeed Newbolt, feels unearned. A shame, because it starts pretty well.


Eric M. Edwards said...

Mine neither starts nor ends well:

Be they rook raven,
Crow or butcher-bird,
Sea-eagle, hornbill,
Or the Great Macaw
Remember O child,
That once all birds
Were dinosaurs.

- Be They Rook Raven, A Cautionary Afterword

From The White Owl:

Adam Roberts said...

I like it!

Chris said...

Prayer to prey just completely grounds me. Where I should be lazily soaring aloft, letting the poem lift me without needing to do much work until we come nearer to some resolution at the, y'know, end, instead I'm sitting puzzling about just what is being implied if anything.