Joy Harjo’s serene and simple lyric ‘Eagle Poem’ is unlike any other poem featuring this creature. In those poems, readers can find that the poets are depicting an eagle as a creature that is on top of the food chain, looking below like a dictator, and as a ruler overseeing the world. It has a godly aura that is crooked yet hilarious. But, in her poem, Harjo presents this creature as a symbol of life. Its circular movement in the sky depicts how the cycle of life keeps moving.
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‘Eagle Poem’ by Joy Harjo urges us to feel our inner self by emphasizing the idea of spirituality and self-knowledge.
In this poem, Joy Harjo asks readers to pray and open their whole self to nature. She describes nature as a mother who takes the utmost care of her children. Harjo asks them to listen to their soul. She says in the lap of mother nature, an individual can know the true meaning of the self and the complete cycle of life.
Life’s cycle is compared to the circular motion of an eagle in the blue sky. According to Harjo, the circles made by an eagle in the sky motivates people to work hard and never give up because the eagle always keeps moving ahead.
In the last few lines, she says that, if one prays for knowing themselves, their way of thinking will change. They will see the world from a different perspective.
You can read the full poem here.
The title of this piece ‘Eagle Poem’ is a bit unconventional as here Harjo adds the word “poem” after the creature’s name. It hints at an interesting idea. When readers first come across the title, they feel it is a poem about an eagle or something related to it. Amusingly, it is not about itself only. Harjo’s focus is more on life and spirituality than the creature. But, there is a link between the eagle and human life. According to the poet, the eagle’s circular motions have a language, without words or sounds. It is a sign language of nature, signifying the beautiful cycle of life.
This poem consists of a total of 26 lines. There is no specific rhyme scheme. In a few instances, readers can find the use of slant rhymes. The lines of this piece are grouped into a single stanza. Some short lines are packed with comparatively long lines. Harjo uses enjambment to internally connect the lines and maintain the flow of this piece. For example, the first three lines point at a singular idea. Here, the speaker tells her audience to pray to nature as a whole. There is no metrical pattern in the text. Harjo mostly uses the iambic meter.
In Harjo’s ‘Eagle Poem,’ readers can find the following literary devices that make this piece an interesting read.
- Anaphora: The repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive sentences is called anaphora. It occurs in the first three lines, beginning with the word “To”. “In beauty” is used two times in the last two lines. One is used for the beauty of nature and the other is used for the beauty of the inner self.
- Tricolon: A tricolon is a group of three similar phrases, words, clauses, or sentences. They are parallel in their length, rhythm, and/or structure. “To” is used in the very first three lines of the poem. In the first line it is “To pray”, in the second line it is “To sky”, and in the third line it is “To one”.
- Simile: A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. In this poem, life-cycle is compared to an eagle’s arc.
- Imagery: Much of the imagery is derived from nature. The image of flying is there in the poem, which suggests that we should open ourselves to nature and live freely in peace. Eagle’s circular motion and the cycle of life are also there. It shows that the cycle of our lives is like a “True circle of motion,/ Like eagle rounding out the morning”.
Harjo’s ‘Eagle Poem’ engages with the themes of nature, spirituality, inner self, and peace. She focuses on the development of a human’s inner self. A person should try to know himself more, and also get some time for himself. As people grow up, they start to care more about material things and get tangled gradually.
They should relax and know themselves more through a simple prayer. One stays in peace if he prays and follows the calling of his soul. His inner self gets fullness when he opens his inner feelings in the form of prayer. Therefore, Harjo is asking the individuals to focus more on the spiritual aspect and self-discovery.
She urges them to feel the beauty of nature as well. In her opinion, a person stays in peace and gets complete fulfillment with the help of nature. Life will become more cheerful and amazing if one cares about nature. And nature will give the individual its motherly love in return. He stays more at ease near her. There, he will get to know more about his inner world. For mental peace and self-knowledge, one should follow the path of spirituality.
To pray you open your whole self
That you can’t see, can’t hear,
In the first three lines of ‘Eagle Poem,’ Joy Harjo urges everybody to open their whole self or mind to the sky, earth, sun, and moon. One can surely get a sense of peace in the lap of mother nature. Opening up the heart to nature provides a sense of remoteness that helps a person to relax the mind, body, and especially the heart. In such a peaceful state, they can listen to the inner voice that is the voice of the soul itself.
Then they can realize that there are a lot of other things too, one is unaware of. Several aspects of nature and one’s inner world cannot be seen with the physical eyes. These things exist even at the same time one realizes oneself. When a person is not fully aware of his inner self and he won’t be able to feel those things of nature.
Regarding the literary devices used in these lines, readers can find the use of asyndeton in the second and third lines. The placement of those terms hints at a sense of continuity. Besides, the repetition creates a rhyming effect as well.
Can’t know except in moments
Circles of motion.
Harjo says that the things which the individual will get to know will be very simple but they cannot realize it beforehand. Everything grows in one’s mind in a steady fashion, even if life grows slowly. Life is much more than human beings think of. It is more about knowing the connection between oneself and nature, rather than selflessly pleasing the inner desires.
There is no particular sound of these motions. These sounds are without words and the language is unlike the way we communicate. It’s the language of nature, silent, serene, and soothing. Likewise, our inner self develops with no particular sound. Still, it has its own language.
Life grows steadily like the “Circles of motion”. Like a circle’s circumference forms an endless loop that goes on forever. There is no beginning or ending in it. It just goes on. Likewise, the steady growth of life and its gradual movement towards death is an everlasting loop. Human beings are bound to this circular motion that keeps the creation revolving.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
With sacred wings.
In these lines of ‘Eagle Poem,’ Harjo says the motion of life is the same as that of the circles an eagle makes in the sky. An eagle makes circular movements while in flight. Firstly, it makes one circle and then keeps making arcs, so is a human life. Like an eagle makes its arcs in the sky, human beings have to keep moving towards death. This cycle is everlasting. It exists as long as the creation is in motion.
The speaker calls the eagle’s wings sacred. Here, Harjo invests divinity into this creature of nature. She tries to convey that this creature is the messenger of God himself. Through its circular motions, it reminds humanity of life and death. Its wings are sacred because it fearlessly moves above the river, making wide circles in the sky as if it is the overseer of the creation. This attribute belongs to the creator.
When a person learns to tackle problems their heart will feel at ease and they will become like an eagle. So, an individual must move freely in their life and keep going like an eagle.
We see you, see ourselves, and know
And kindness in all things.
When one watches these glimpses of nature, he can decipher the kindness in it. Nature shows kindness with her unspoken words. He will realize that he also needs to take care of himself and other people, just like nature does. Everyone should learn from nature so that they can take the utmost care of the creation.
Like the eagle widens its wings in the generous sky, nature provides sufficient space for each living being to expand themselves. There is a free space for everyone to explore and to know one’s true potential. Even sometimes, it becomes a bit problematic for the selfishness of others, they can also learn from the eagle. It is mighty, still, it is insignificant in comparison to the size and wideness of creation.
If readers look at this line from this perspective, they can understand how insignificant human beings are from the perspective of a wider frame of reference. If one becomes part of this beautiful creation, he or she should be grateful to nature. They have to show their gratitude to nature in the form of showing kindness to each and every creature on this earth.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
In the last few lines of ‘Eagle Poem,’ Harjo’s speaker says everyone is made up of nature. All we have got is from nature. We can breathe because of nature. That’s why we are truly blessed to be born in the lap of nature. The motion of life is full of happiness and sorrow. It goes on steadily. Here, Harjo brings up the myth that a human body is made up of five elements of nature. These elements are the sky, fire, water, soil, and air. This myth seems somewhat apparent when one reads the first few lines of this section.
In the last lines, Harjo says that our life will also become divine just like the eagle’s arc if we can understand this “True circle of motion”. She comes again to the prayer in the end. The speaker blesses this circular motion if it keeps revolving in beauty.
One’s life ends soon. Before It ends, we should enjoy and savor each moment of our life. The heart will feel at ease if one prays that the circular motion of life keeps going in beauty. Like birth is beautiful in itself, so should be death. The joy in this movement is endless. One should enjoy this true motion just like the eagle enjoys it in the sky.
The main symbol of this piece is the eagle. Eagle is a symbol of strength, grace, love, pride, and bravery. It is considered the most honorable and formidable creature in terms of its connectivity to divine nature. Its feathers are used for healing and also on other occasions. In this poem, the “eagle” is used as a symbol of joy. Its “circle of motion” is symbolized as the cycle of life. According to Harjo, one should enjoy their life like an eagle enjoying its circular flight in the rich, blue sky. Like an eagle, keeps making arcs in the sky, the cycle of life will be in motion forever. If one is free from all the tensions, one can understand the beauty of this motion, just like the eagle’s gracious arcs.
‘Eagle Poem’ was published in 1990 in ‘In Mad Love and War’, a collection of Joy Harjo’s poems. Joy Harjo was born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Harjo is selected as the new US poet laureate in 2019 and the first Native American to hold this place. Harjo’s parents divorced when she was a child. In her childhood, she was called Joy Foster. Her mother used to write songs and her grandmother played the saxophone. Harjo’s aunt was also an artist. She was greatly inspired by them.
Harjo wrote in an era where the style of writing was changing. Joy Harjo’s poems are often inspired by Native American stories, languages, and myths. Especially in this poem, Harjo talks about the role of nature. She uses the symbol of an eagle to portray how life goes on in a circular motion like the arcs made by this bird.
In ‘Eagle Poem,’ Harjo tells readers to follow their inner self. One should not focus on the material aspects. Instead of that, they should focus on their inner voice and should follow the spiritual aspects by looking at the circular motions of an eagle in the sky.
Harjo’s ‘Eagle Poem’ is a free-verse lyric that uses vivid natural imagery to depict beauty in the circular motion of life and death.
The central idea of the poem is about knowing one’s inner self and the beauty in the cycle of life.
Harjo implicitly compares the lives of human beings to that of an arc made by an eagle.
The tone of ‘Eagle Poem’ is pleasant and reflective, soothing and relaxing, which gives readers instant relief. Besides, this poem’s spiritual and inspirational tone encourages readers to come out of the material world and focus more on their souls.
Harjo tells readers to pray to the sky, earth, sun, moon, and one’s inner self. According to her, the individual should open his mind and listen to his own thoughts.
According to Harjo, an individual will get to know his inner self in the soundless language of mother nature.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Eagle Poem’ can read more about some of Joy Harjo’s poems.
- ‘Remember’ – It’s one of the beautiful poems by Joy Harjo. The poem talks about the relation of human beings to the earth and asks the reader to remember their connectivity to humanity and the earth.
- ‘Perhaps The World Ends Here’ – This piece takes the central image of a kitchen table to connect all the areas of life.
- ‘Speaking Tree’ – This poem describes how a speaker senses and understands the natural world, her place in it, and the place of all living beings.