Michael Symmons Roberts Poems
Hitchcockean: The Bird Inside Us All
Symmons Roberts presents to us the idea of primal instinct and savagery which still is a part of human nature; he is comparing our natural demeanour to that of birds. The poem is obviously not about birds attacking people despite the link to the Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’, but is about the soul, the feelings and the gut instinct and doing ‘what your heart tells you to do’. It is suggesting that we each have a type of ‘bird’ inside of us, and that we may or may not discover what it exactly is, we just know of its’ existence.
The first stanza of the poem creates a sinister and uncomfortable feeling, as the midline full stop in the first line gives an unexpected and dramatic impact and is then followed by the almost disturbing imagery of ‘chittering’ birds.The idea of these birds watching you and ‘chittering’ gives the speaker slight discomfort as the sinister childlike tone brings thoughts of paranoia and unease. The imagery of these birds is developed further in the third line when they are described as having ‘red-ringed, sink-hole eyes’, giving the picture of evil in their deep dark eyes. This makes the speaker feel immediate discomfort, and they will further discover that the poem is suggesting this evil is in fact a part of them, making the imagery a very effective technique.
The sense of savagery is developed in the second stanza, as the ‘tap-tap-tapping’ sound forms an image in the speaker’s mind that the birds are after them, they are knocking on windows and searching for them, which links to the sense of thrill from Hitchcock’s film. This primal yet chilling action is then described to have ‘the urgency, hunger, blunt-sense of the wild’; this climax works to produce its meaning that human nature is not dissimilar to that of birds as the pattern of three foreshadows the pattern of three used in the last line of the last stanza. The ‘blunt-sense of the wild’ refers to primal instinct not only found in birds and other animals, but also in humans. It suggests that beneath our apparent civilization we all have primal urges and will all act on them.
The third stanza is the point where the birds stop being described and the image of ‘a single egg’ inside each of us is introduced. The metaphor of comparing the egg to the heart emphasizes the fragility of the heart and soul, and in the last line of this stanza we understand that this egg does crack due to its fragility. This symbolizes how easy it is to slip into savagery, and the fact that the egg is ‘lodged’ suggests it is not permanent and secure; it emphasizes the uncertainty. Symmons Roberts uses the phrase ‘la petite mort’ which is French for ‘the little death’ or ‘orgasm.’ Depending on how you translate and interpret this phrase you can get a different meaning from this line in the poem; if we take it to be ‘the little death’, the juxtaposition placed immediately before a description of birth suggests pain when we do discover the ‘bird’ or ‘instinct’ inside of us.
There is further juxtaposition when the type of birds are explained as it ‘may be dun wren, bird of paradise, dull rook’, as the more positive image of a ‘bird of paradise’ is compared to the dull images beside it which emphasizes the the rarity of it and increased desire to be like it, to have this type of ‘egg’ placed inside you. ‘La petite mort’ is also translated as an orgasm, and this double meaning could refer to the primal urges of sexual desire. The climax in line ten works in an interesting way to produce its meaning, as it all builds up to an essential movement as a ‘stretch of wing’ and starting point of a bird’s’ life, except it is not about a real bird but the instinct hatching inside of a person. The prior happenings to the ‘stretch of wing’ suggest something so quick and instinctive, almost like a reflex action as a ‘pulse’ is felt after an alarming ‘blood-borne trill’. This would suggest there is something about the hatching instinct and savagery that is uncontrollable and subconscious, along with this sense of ‘arrhythmia’ (a problem with the regularity of the heartbeat) and ‘restlessness’ it creates a sinister and suspenseful approach to whatever type of ‘bird’ that hatches inside of us.
As we are presented with the idea that we all have this part of us that will emerge at some point and make us lose our civilised ways, we understand that the evil inside of our savagery can affect each of us in different ways and cause different characteristics of savagery to emerge from different people. The concept that we are not so different from animals (in this case birds) causes the speaker to consider their primal instincts and urges and compare them with those given and suggested in the poem. Symmons Roberts suggests that we all have this egg inside of us and each of us cannot do anything to control its hatching when triggered, we will not be able to stop this compulsive primal desire to react entirely on our instincts as opposed to considering other moral and social factors.