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In his poem “Evening Hawk,” Robert Warren transforms the flight of a hawk during a sunset into a greater tale of the mankind’s history and the relentless cycle of time. Through a comparison of the hawk to a scythe that cuts through “stalks of Time,” a tone shift between the ominous appearance of the hawk to its departure, and a metaphor comparing history to a leaking pipe, Warren suggests that in the grand scheme of things, the day-to-day actions of man mean very little: mistakes are forgotten; failures can be reset; only the greatest triumphs leave legacies.
Warren employs structured, sharp diction as he first describes the sunset and the hawk, suggesting that at the end of a day, time is burdened with the restrictions imposed by man, but can be easily overtaken by the forces of nature. The light is breaking up in “planes” and “geometries”; the hawk emerges from the “black angularity of shadow” then “scythes down another day.” For a sunset, something associated with gradual, romantic change, to be described in mathematical terms is reflective of man’s unreasonable attempts to control and quantify existence. But then nature appears, as a sharp and unforgiving scythe, cleanly cutting through such control. Like there is no stalk that can resist a sharp scythe, there is no amount of human control that can resist the relentless movement of time and the natural world.
Warren then moves to detail the “stalks of Time,” noting that they are “heaving with the gold of [human] error.” It has already been made explicit that to Warren, a stalk is a day, so for each stalk to be laden with heavy gold reflects a constant burden of man. Each day, mankind makes mistakes, and each day, mankind remembers and suffers over such mistakes. When humans look upon the past, the heaviest, most notable and valued memories are often those of failure. But as the hawk, as the natural world, is able to cleanly cut through it all, it demonstrates that even the greatest human failure will fade over time; there is no use in suffering over it.
Suddenly, Warren’s tone is filled with an earnestness: “Look! Look! He is climbing the last light.” By repeating the simplistic command, “look!,” it is as if Warren can not find the words to describe such majesty, for it is something each person must see. He establishes a mood of awe at the hawk’s departure, and by extension, the cycle of time. Warren also notes that the hawk “knows neither Time nor error,” which is not to say that the hawk does not abide by the passage of time, but rather “Time”: the structured way in which mankind tries to control time. The hawk doesn’t recognize this: the recording of all that occurs in certain minutes, hours, and days. It merely flows with the natural way of the world, allowing each day to be new. So as the hawk reaches the last light and each “stalk of Time” has been destroyed, Warren’s tone shifts from structured to one of almost childlike joy, reflecting that it’s a new day; it’s time to forget the harsh limitations of the past day and to move on.
As the sun sets and the hawk leaves, Warre’s tone softens further and he alludes to mankind’s legacy. The hawk is last seen “cruising in his sharp hieroglyphics” and a star appears over the mountain, “steady, like Plato.” Few things remain after nature has run its course and Time and error have been erased for a new day. Of those things are hieroglyphics, representations of human civilization and Plato, a representation of human intelligence. So it is not the error of humankind that survives the test of time, not the mundane, but the greatest triumphs.
Warren ends with a metaphor, claiming that if “there were no winds we might … hear the earth grind on its axis, or history drip in darkness like a leaking pipe”; if humankind takes a moment to be still and simply exist with nature, they will realize that the world goes on, unaffected by small trials and tribulations of mankind, and that human history, for the most part, will slowly fade. But Warren’s ultimate message is not to completely disregard the past. Rather, it is rather that humankind loads itself with failures of the past, but the world goes on regardless of failure, so one should not suffer over the past, but instead focus on leaving a legacy for the future.
My original essay was surprisingly not the absolute trainwreck that I expected. The general idea — that time goes on, regardless of human trials and tribulation — is definitely present, along with much of the evidence in my revised essay (sharp, structured diction in the beginning, allusions to hieroglyphics and Plato) were present. But it is obvious that I struggled to properly communicate these ideas in the original essay, resorting to a myriad of redundant, at times unintelligible, phrases as well as remaining focused on the prompt. The changes I have made in this second essay reflect that I have grown into a more sophisticated, structured, and intentional writer.
Before really delving into the context of the original essay, it was important to remove all the cliche phrases from my work. By this, I mean gone were phrases like “legends of the night,” which I knew meant nothing when I wrote it, but I thought sounded cool. It was also important to remove all the points were my tone ventured too far into the casual zone (“…aren’t exactly poster children…”), a common habit of mine when I panic.
Of course, I made other changes as well. I rewrote my intro paragraph to actually introduce the content of the essay rather than merely summarize the poem so that my essay had structure from the beginning and had a clear thesis to follow. I also moved chronologically throughout the poem instead of making broad, sweeping statements about what a symbol means and the overall mood. For this particular essay, making broad statements would not have been effective because the symbolism and mood both change throughout the poem. As a general note, however, I know that an essay doesn’t need to be written chronologically, but I have found that it works best for me. I also added far more analysis to each piece of evidence, such as explaining the importance of the comparison between error and gold. In the original essay, I only mentioned the description, but the revised essay explains that gold, which is notorious for its heavy weight, is symbolic of a large burden. Only in the second essay is there a purpose to mentioning this comparison at all. I have also written a conclusion. It is short, and perhaps a little lacking, but it exists which is more than I can say for the original essay. In addition, the conclusion not only repeats the thesis, but (I think) effectively wraps up all the evidence presented in the essay, giving that greater “so what.”
Though I’ve had a year to think this poem over, I’m still not entirely confident in my interpretation of it. I suppose that poetry will always be my weakness. But, even with my somewhat shaky ideas, my improved writing ability has allowed me to create a far more persuasive essay.
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