G Gillian Clarke

Buzzard by Gillian Clarke

‘Buzzard’ by Gillian Clarke is a poem about lost hopes, dreams and opportunities revisited, using the metaphor of a buzzard and its skeleton.

Buzzard by Gillian Clarke is a poem about lost hopes, dreams, and opportunities revisited, using the metaphor of a buzzard.  A buzzard is a bird that can represent 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 represents a person’s past dreams and opportunities. It is important to understand that in order to move forward and live life you have to accept the choices you made, the risks you took, and the consequences you may have had to live with ever since. Where there is no risk there is no life. You can listen to the full poem here.


Buzzard Analysis

First Stanza

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. It is important that the reader keeps 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 structure that is flawless, 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. The buzzard here could easily symbolize many things, in this analysis, the representation of the buzzard will be associated with the lost hopes, dreams, and opportunities that are revisited by individuals. As a person goes through their unique experience of life, they will build hopes and dreams for themselves that will never meet reality and briefly touch opportunities that will slip through their fingers. The buzzard represents these hopes, dreams, and opportunities; while its skull represents their loss. As the poet finds this skull, she seems to be revisiting the skeleton of her opportunities and dreams that she never got to see come to life. By observing and describing these past aspirations as ones with no faults and being smooth, the reader is given the idea that they were well thought out and planned.


Second Stanza

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. In line six the poet jumps into describing that the skull was found “on the hill”, this could imply that the hopes and aspirations did take off but never made it very far since they weren’t found on flat ground. 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. Heavily implying that like the fire her dreams and opportunities were fierce and real, but as life moved on she has left nothing but he skeleton or ashes as a souvenir; some of them become so unrecognizable that looking back you can only guess what the skeleton was for.


Third Stanza

The third stanza focuses on the emotions of the poet or character that finds the skeleton of the buzzard. Lines ten to twelve discuss how the person hopes that “the last day of the bird” meaning the skeleton, will not “demand assembly”. This is highly significant as it really resonates with the feelings of an individual who is revisiting his/her lost hopes, dreams, and opportunities eagerly wanting that their skeletons do not expect to be reassembled. The most difficult part of revisiting one’s past aspirations is the fact that you can’t change them now, the decisions you made have consequences that you face today, and the opportunities you had in the past can never be the same for you in the present because your experiences have changed you as a person and even if you were to be given that same opportunity again, you would experience it differently because of who you have become. It is quite painful to look back and think of the what-ifs and what could have been, that is why when you revisit them, it is important that you carry them “gently home”.


Fourth Stanza

In this fourth stanza of this poem, Clarke seems to be describing her thoughts about the decomposing body of the buzzard. She suggests that it died in “spaces we can’t see/ on the other side of the walls”; meaning away from the public eye. That is exactly how a person’s aspirations die, in places we can’t see and far away from the common knowledge and interest of the public. 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”.  These lines represent how dreadful it can be to experience watching your dream die. It is not as easy as saying it couldn’t survive; the reality is that in order for there to be only a skeleton left every aspect of that hope or dream had to have disintegrated in front of you. Then only would you be able to leave it behind, knowing that nothing about it is alive or possible anymore; that is a very graphic and painful process to go through.


Fifth Stanza

Stanza five is a turning point for the poem as it no longer focuses on the death of the buzzard but the possible life it may have lived. Clarke describes a beautiful scene of the buzzard flying “between the sky and the mouse”. This scene accentuates the possibilities a person’s hopes and opportunities hold; what a beautiful thing it is to hope for things, to plan to achieve great goals knowing and feeling that anything is possible. The sky is symbolic of these great ambitions and possibilities, and the mouse is symbolic of the basic common, mediocrity of life. These two symbols underline the fact that every individual is in the position that he/she is in the middle of or “between” these two and they have the choice of flying higher to touch the sky or diving to the ground towards a normal or common life.


Sixth Stanza

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”; this is an important illustration as it accurately represents the obstacles anyone’s aspirations face when hit with the reality of life and circumstances. Not many dreams and opportunities survive when challenged with circumstance and an individual’s unique reality. 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 of.


Seventh Stanza

This last stanza is actually a couplet and concluding the poem with a couplet, 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 it is being mentioned that such people never “feel the lightning flash of heart/dropping on heart, warm fur, blood.”; Conveying the message that they miss out on experiencing actual life. The reality of life is based on the fact that there are consequences to your decisions and actions, and when you take risks to explore the consequences you grow as a person. Therefore, it is okay if you have numerous skeletons of your buzzards because it means you took risks, you lived; and at the end of the day, that is all that matters.

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Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.
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