Robert Penn Warren’s poem “Evening Hawk” uses meticulously chosen language to convey the author’s sense of dread in society’s gathering ignorance. The hawk’s appearance at this specific time of day – evening, just as the last light drops below the horizon – shows that the author fears what is to come. The darkest of nights is about to spread over the world.
In the first stanza, Warren builds the geometric and light imagery. His light imagery in “From plane of light to plane,” and “sunset,” and “light above the pines,” show that the light is depleting from the scene. This, combined with the ideas of harsh and definitive shapes found in “the peak’s black angularity,” demonstrates to the reader that this is the final, decisive moment for the natural world, and, by extension, society. Finally, Warren’s enjambment of “The hawk comes,” is a pivotal point for the poem, emphasizing the hawk’s importance as both a physical creature and metaphorical idea.
He extends the geometric imagery in the next stanza by using the idea of lines. Sharp angles and razor edges figure prominently into his action: “His wig / Scythes down another day” and the “honed steel-edge” of his motion. This is used to create definitiveness in the poem – society must chose truth, or face darkness. He emphasizes the “crashless fall of stalks of Time” to emphasize the ephemeral nature of our existence.
Warren shows that humanity is lying to itself when he writes, “The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.” This proves that society has fabricated gilded lies to protect itself from reality; yet in doing this, it is only hurting itself. The hawk gracefully follows as truth, represented in this poem by light, escapes the scene. He looks back on the world of lies with an “unforgiving” eye, as it plunges into “shadow”, becoming a land of absolute ignorance.
He continues to show how today’s knowledge will become as ignored as the past’s: “hieroglyphics” and the wisdom of Plato have long since been forgotten. If society continues on this path, so will all of modern knowledge.
Warren does, however, manage to retain some sense of hope. If there were “no wind” – that is, the societal conventions irrelevant to the pursuit of truth – we might “hear / The earth grind on its axis, or history / Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.” With this sentence, Warren shows that truth is attainable; but society has to be willing to walk into the cold, dark cellar and turn on the light.