‘Buzzard’ by Gillian Clarke is a poem dedicated to describing a buzzard’s skull. A buzzard is a bird representing many things, such as freedom, power, and strength; in this poem, the reader gets the chance to explore the importance of the skeleton of the buzzard and how it could represent a person’s past dreams and opportunities.
You can listen to the full poem here.
No sutures in the steep brow
as smooth as her own egg
In the very first line of Clarke’s Buzzard, she ambiguously introduces the main subject of the poem, which is clearly exposed in the title of the poem: a buzzard. The reader must keep in mind the subject of this poem, as it is an imperative metaphor that clues the reader into the symbolism this poem carries.
The very first line dives into the image of perfection by stating that “no sutures” are present. This statement emphasizes a flawless structure, and the second line reveals that the author is speaking of a literal skull, the skull of a buzzard, that she later goes on to describe “as smooth as her own egg” in the fourth line.
It’s possible to imagine a buzzard representing hopes, dreams, and opportunities; while its skull represents their loss. As the speaker finds this skull, they seem to be revisiting the skeleton of their opportunities and dreams that they never got to see come to life. But, on a literal level, the poem is focused on a creative and interesting description of the skull that should lead one to imagine what the buzzard was like when it was alive.
or the cleft flesh of a fruit.
you guess it’s a buzzard’s skull.
As the poet continues to describe the physical skull of the buzzard in this second stanza, the reader is forced to realize that this is an important topic for the poet. This skull holds such high regard that the poet dedicates her time to appreciate the reality of its form and structure.
It is also compared to fruit and its natural “flesh,” emphasizing that any imperfections were just natural indentations, just as any flaws in a person’s aspirations and opportunities would be due to natural limitations or hindrances.
Lines seven and eight depict a powerful illustration as the poet so eloquently relates finding the skull to finding the ashes of a fire in the morning. It is something left over, only a skeleton of what used to be there.
You carry it gently home
of her numerous white parts.
The third stanza focuses on the emotions of the person that finds the skeleton of the buzzard. Lines ten to twelve discuss how the speaker hopes that “the last day of the bird,” meaning the skeleton, will not “demand assembly.”
There is a Biblical suggestion here in which the speaker references the “last day” of life and how all the bones will be redrawn together according to Christian tradition. This adds to the feeling in these lines and reemphasizes why the speaker is carrying the skull gently.
In the spaces we can’t see
dry out under the gossamers.
In this fourth stanza of this poem, Clarke seems to be describing her thoughts about the decomposing body of the buzzard. She refers to the inside of the skill as “spaces we can’t see/ on the other side of the walls.” Lines fifteen and sixteen are quite gruesome as they depict the drying out of the brain and eyes of the buzzard’s skull under “gossamers.”
They’re thinking about the design and composition of the skull. They are exploring the bird, what happened to it, and what’s still happening to it today. Their interest in
the skull is entire and includes gruesome bits.
Between the sky and the mouse
a mile of air and the ganging
Stanza five is a turning point for the poem. The poet focuses on the life it may have lived. Clarke describes a beautiful scene of the buzzard flying “between the sky and the mouse.” It had a freedom that human beings can only envy. It circles in the speaker’s imagination along with the “crows” that begin the sixth stanza.
crows, their cries stones as her head,
The sixth stanza is just a continuing flow of thought from the previous stanza. Here, Clarke depicts crows that distract the buzzard with “their cries stones at her head.” They’re warning one another and trying to scare the buzzard off.
In line twenty-two, Clarke implies that the buzzard knew it was going to die and so “risked” everything, and by risking everything, “she scorns the scavengers/ who feed on death.” A hunter who thrives off of death will never understand the reason risks are taken; when an individual risks everything for his goals, it displays his/her strength and courage.
These are traits that others (who thrive off of the loss of others) will never understand or recognize the value.
This last stanza is a couplet, and by concluding the poem with a couplet, Gillian Clarke is underlining the message the concise conclusion is trying to convey. Again, this is a continuation of the previous stanza discussing those who “feed on death.”
Here, the poet mentions that such people never “feel the lightning flash of heart/dropping on heart, warm fur, blood.” She may be trying to convey the message that they miss out on experiencing actual life.