Evening Hawk

Robert Penn Warren

‘Evening Hawk’ showcases Warren’s love for rich imagery and metaphysical symbolism. The hawk serves as a powerful vehicle for a series of revelations about our place in the universe.

Robert Penn Warren

Nationality: American

Robert Penn Warren was an American poet born in Kentucky in 1905.

Today, he is remembered for his poetry, criticism, and novels.

Key Poem Information

Unlock more with Poetry+

Central Message: Humanity's relationship to time

Themes: Death, Spirituality

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Excitement, Fear, Panic, Sadness

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Robert Penn Warren's 'Evening Hawk' is a powerful example of his gift for highly symbolic imagery that pulls in the reader.

In Robert Penn Warren’s ‘Evening Hawk,’ an evening hawk sighting forces the speaker to contend with humanity’s powerlessness.

Warren uses the hawk to symbolize the relentless march of time, which continues regardless of human errors or triumphs. The speaker’s spiritual experience ends melancholy as he imagines the slow and painful progress of human history.


In ‘Evening Hawk,‘ the speaker narrates a hawk sighting at sunset. Although the speaker is initially struck with wonder at the hawk’s approach, he soon becomes overwhelmed with the cosmic magnitude it represents.

The speaker imagines the hawk as a Grim Reaper figure who has come to pass judgment on the errors of human history. He compares its motion to that of a scythe, cutting down days like wheat. As the sun sets and the hawk departs, the speaker reflects on humanity’s impotence in the face of time.

Structure and Form

‘Evening Hawk‘ is a free verse poem consisting of 23 lines and six stanzas of an inconsistent length. There are no rhymes, but Warren frequently uses lyrical repetition and symbolic imagery to structure the poem.

Literary Devices

Warren uses the following literary devices:

  • Repetition: Warren frequently uses repetition to give additional emphasis to his lines. Examples include “hear” in lines 9 and 21 and “Look! Look!” in line 12. He also uses it to give lines an internal rhythm, as in line 1.
  • Symbolism: The hawk is a powerful symbol in the poem, representing the awesome and frightening power of the universe.
  • Enjambment: Warren often uses enjambment to give the poem greater momentum. Examples include lines 1, 3, 4, and 8.
  • Allusion: Warren alludes to the philosopher Plato in the fifth stanza, as well as the archetypical Grim Reaper in stanza 2.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza 1

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through


The last tumultuous avalanche of

Light above pines and the guttural gorge,

The hawk comes.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes a hawk sighting at sunset, though he does not name the hawk until the final line. Instead, he allows an ominous tension to build. He first mentions the wings, honing in on the hawk’s most powerful feature. By juxtaposing the hawk with an expansive natural world, including a sunset, peak, and gorge, Warren characterizes the speaker’s experience as awesome.

His use of mathematical language such as “plane,” “geometries,” and “angularity” suggests the imposition of human logic onto nature. However, as the hawk rides a “tumultuous avalanche” of light over a “guttural gorge,” its arrival begins to feel unstoppable, almost terrifying. An “avalanche” is a cataclysmic event out of human control, while a gorge is extremely dangerous.

The word “guttural” suggests a harsh primality, very different from the delicate “Geometries and orchids” the speaker initially imagines. At last, “The hawk comes” and confronts the speaker with a series of revelations.

Stanzas 2-3

His wing

Scythes down another day, his motion


The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Again, Warren focuses on the hawk’s “wing,” and its ability to “Scyth[e] down another day” makes it seem immense. The word “Scythes” echoes the Grim Reaper’s scythe, which he uses to harvest the souls of the dead. The motion of the “honed steel-edge” further suggests that the hawk is a ruthless figure of death and destruction. That the edge is “honed” implies that the action has been repeated, perhaps since the beginning of time.

The speaker claims that “we hear/The crashless fall of stalks of Time.” The use of “we” draws in the reader, while the “crashless fall” characterizes the event as quiet but devastating. The image of “stalks of Time” again recalls the Grim Reaper and almost personifies “Time” itself. Warren then isolates the next line as its own stanza, stating that the “head” of each stalk is “heavy with the gold of our error,” implying that the hawk’s course is that of human history. The “head[s]” has a double meaning, imagining the stalks as people whose heads are falling with the progression of Time.

Stanza 4

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light


Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings

Into shadow.

Warren continues to pull the reader into the speaker’s experience with “Look! Look!,” as if the reader were present to see the hawk. The hawk “climb[s]” the sunset, disappearing as the world plunges into night and leaves the speaker in shadow.

His initial wonder has become melancholy as he imagines an “unforgiving” sun and an “unforgiven” world. Faced with nature’s majesty, the speaker is reminded of humanity’s folly and, implicitly, his own.

Stanza 5

Long now,

The last thrush is still, the last bat

Is ancient, too, and immense. The star

Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

The speaker goes on to describe nighttime. The “last thrush,” a diurnal bird whose song peaks around dusk, has been replaced by the “last bat,” who “cruises” serenely. This third repetition of “last” emphasizes the epic, disastrous quality of the speaker’s experience, which contrasts with the calm nature of the wise bat and the “steady” star. Warren references “Plato” and “hieroglyphics,” bringing human history and culture back into his descriptions.

Since Plato’s philosophy often dealt with immortal souls and eternal ideals, this reference emphasizes how much more vast and ancient the world is compared to human history and human error.

Stanza 6

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear


Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.

Warren refocuses on sound and uses “we” again, pushing the readers to imagine the sounds and images he describes. The speaker first “hears/The earth grind on its axis.” The motion of “grind[ing]” suggests old machinery; the earth feels ancient, possibly damaged. He then hears “history/Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.” The cellar is a dark, underground place hidden beneath one’s home, just as the speaker’s fears about his place in the world were buried before the hawk sighting.

A “pipe” is a human invention, so its “leaking” ultimately affirms humanity’s imperfections and our relative unimportance in relation to the vast scale of the universe.


What is ‘Evening Hawk‘ about?

The poem’s expansive symbolism draws upon imagery of death and human history, which serve to highlight humanity’s inability to halt the progress of time.

What is the tone of ‘Evening Hawk?’

The tone of ‘Evening Hawk’ is initially ecstatic and becomes increasingly melancholy. The speaker calls out to the reader in wonder and agitation in the fourth stanza, but the sounds and images of the final stanza are quiet and somber.

What are the core themes of ‘Evening Hawk’?

The core themes of ‘Evening Hawk‘ include time, which Warren views as a more powerful force than any human invention, and human perception, which always shapes, or warps, how people see the world.

Why does Warren use a hawk to represent Time?

A hawk is a predator who makes the speaker feel small and frightened as if the speaker were its prey. This represents how Time cuts through human lives like a predator catching its prey.

Similar Poetry

Poetry+ Review Corner

Evening Hawk

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Robert Penn Warren (poems)

Robert Penn Warren

This piece is highly reflective of Warren's strengths as a poet, showcasing his love for metaphysical imagery and powerful symbolism. His use of vivid and gripping language also represents his skill as a poet and why he was so popular in his time.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

20th Century

Robert Penn Warren was a successful and influential 20th century poet, and 'Evening Hawk' is one of his better-known poems. Its symbolic imagery is characteristic of a lot of free verse poetry from the time.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Robert Penn Warren was a very successful and critically acclaimed American poet in the 20th century, though he is not one of the most commonly known ones now. 'Evening Hawk' on its own is a good example of American free verse, but not one of the more influential American poems.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


In this poem, the titular bird is a Grim Reaper figure who cuts down human lives with the motion of its wing. However, there are many poems about death, several of which are better known.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The titular figure of Robert Penn Warren's 'Evening Hawk' is a spiritual figure who recalls images of death and god-like power. The poem is not directly religious in nature, but the speaker's experience feels powerfully spiritual.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The speaker is excited by the hawk's arrival, and his exclamations of "Look! Look!" to the reader emphasize the importance of this experience for him. He also loses his ability to define the world in more human terms, such as mathematics, in his excitement and fear.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


As the hawk approaches, the speaker's feelings quickly turn to fear. He sees the hawk as a death-like figure, cutting down human lives with the sweep of its wing. However, the fear ebbs as the hawk disappears, and the speaker shifts into melancholy.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The speaker expresses panic as the hawk approaches. His description of the hawk as a Grim Reaper figure shows how awed and frightened he is in its presence.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The final images of 'Evening Hawk' express the speaker's mournful feelings over human history. He imagines history dripping the darkness and the earth grinding on its axis, which imagines the world as old and tired.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


'Evening Hawk' is, of course, centered on a bird, although it becomes a wider symbol over the course of the poem. Its wings, in particular, are representative of time's progress.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Evening is the setting for 'Evening Hawk' and serves to highlight the speaker's transformation. As he sees the hawk's approach, his excitement turns to panic. He then imagines, more metaphorically, the evening of the world, which he feels has grown old.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


In this poem, the speaker meditates on the history of the world dwarfs human history. The final image is that of history "drip[ping] in the dark," which represents how Time ruthlessly cuts through human lives.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Robert Penn Warren's 'Evening Hawk' is centered on humanity's fear of time and its relentlessness. Warren almost personifies "Time" by capitalizing it, and the final image is that of "history," a form of structuring time dripping in the dark.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

Free Verse

This poem is a great example of the free verse form, having no rhymes or consistent stanza lengths. There are, however, far more influential free verse poems.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+
Devony Hof Poetry Expert
Devony is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in English Literature with Honors. She received an award for Best Honors Thesis for her work on the doll poems of William Butler Yeats and Eavan Boland, and enjoys diving into poetry.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?

Share to...