In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.
And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and go on running.
On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
perhaps the first taint of me as he
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.
Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.
I awaken I think. Marshlights
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the rest of my days I spend
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?
“The Bear” Analysis:
In “The Bear” by Galway Kinnell, the narrator of the poem is an experienced hunter. The first stanza, “put down my nose and know the chilly, enduring odor of bear,” gives off the vibe that this hunter has been hunting bears for many, many years. He knows where to find bears and exactly how to hunt them down. He has a passion for it. The description that Galway Kinnell uses to describe the hunter’s strong urge but even more powerful patience gives the reader a sense of the “hurry up and wait” technique that the hunter uses later in the poem. Also, in the first stanza, we can tell that Galway Kinnell has some sort of education or personal experience involving bear hunting or just hunting in general.
The second stanza follows the format of the first stanza very closely. Instead, it goes into depth about how long the hunter has been preparing for a large kill such as this bear. The hard work and all the effort that goes into this hurt is reflected in these lines. “I take a wolf’s rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up,” are a few lines that the author uses to give the reader a view of the outside work that is going on as we read. There is no mention of a gun in this poem. Personally, this gives me the feeling that the hunter is very traditional in his styles. Instead the hunter uses simpler tools, “with bear-knives in my fists.” I believe that a gun is an unfair advantage to the hunter and the man using a knife to hunt the bear shows me that he respects the bear.
In the third stanza, we see the relationship between the hunter and the bear grow furthermore. The hunter finds evidence of the bear’s recent presence, “at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice, I lie out.” He literally rests where the bear itself rested. This shows closeness between the two. It’s almost like the hunter is trying to act as if he is the bear. He even crawls like the bear in this stanza, “I lie out/dragging myself forward.”
As the hunter goes on, he becomes more of the bear. Hunger starts taking over and he begins to rely solely on the bear blood. The thought itself makes me nauseous. I think that most people would turn home before relying on drinking blood so this shows how extremely dedicated this hunter is. I think from the author’s standpoint, the bear blood that the hunter is drinking is meant to give the reader an even stronger sense of the man slowly transforming himself into the bear. The bear’s blood is now flowing throughout the man’s body.
In the third stanza, the hunter slices the massive bear open and climbs inside of it. He then continues to eat the bear’s meat and drink the bear’s blood. He was not just hunting the bear for fun and games; it was for survival purposes. In a dream, the man and the bear are one. The man is inside the bear and when he awakens from the dream, the man feels the bear’s pain from dying a slow death. The hunter then sees another bear and with new energy it is almost as if both the bear and hunter have been brought back to life. Galway Kinnell now describes the an as a more bear like figure than a human figure. He begins questioning his way of life. Once again he is hungry, once again he will hunt, he will kill and then eat and then he will become hungry again. It is a never ending cycle. Its almost as if we can just start from the top of the poem again, the process that the man goes through is continuous.