"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poetry: My Mother Would Be A Falconress by Robert Duncan

Here is a poem to commemorate Mother’s Day, “My Mother Would Be A Falconress” by Robert Duncan.  I’ve come across a Robert Duncan poem or two but I’ve no memory of them, and until now I knew nothing of her personal life.  You can read about his rather interesting life at Poets.Org and Wikipedia, but I don’t think his life, other than he had a mother, bears much in the poem.  His natural mother did die in childbirth, and he was adopted.  If one really pushed a biographical reading, you might wonder which of his mothers he’s thinking about.  It could be that the poem is a sort of imaginary transferal to being with his birth mother.  Blood imagery does play an important part of the poem, perhaps raising the suggestion of his blood mother.  But none of that is really important in appreciating the poem.  Poem attributed to Poem.Org. I’ve added the line numbers on the right for ease of reference.

My Mother Would Be a Falconress
by Robert Duncan

My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,
where I dream in my little hood with many bells                        (5)
jangling when I'd turn my head.

My mother would be a falconress,
and she sends me as far as her will goes.
She lets me ride to the end of her curb
where I fall back in anguish.                                                  (10)
I dread that she will cast me away,
for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

She would bring down the little birds.
And I would bring down the little birds.
When will she let me bring down the little birds,                      (15)    
pierced from their flight with their necks broken,
their heads like flowers limp from the stem?

I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence,                                (20)
talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me,
sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist.
She uses a barb that brings me to cower.                                 (25)
She sends me abroad to try my wings
and I come back to her. I would bring down
the little birds to her
I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.

I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood,                         (30)
and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying.
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.                                 (35)
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.

Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me,
always, in a little hood with the bells ringing,
at her wrist, and her riding
to the great falcon hunt, and me                                              (40)
flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart
to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet,
straining, and then released for the flight.

My mother would be a falconress,
and I her gerfalcon raised at her will,                                       (45)
from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own
pride, as if her pride
knew no limits, as if her mind
sought in me flight beyond the horizon.

Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.                                           (50)
And far, far beyond the curb of her will,
were the blue hills where the falcons nest.
And then I saw west to the dying sun--
it seemd my human soul went down in flames.

I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,                           (55)
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where
   the falcons nest
I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.                        
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight,
sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist,
striking out from the blood to be free of her.

My mother would be a falconress,
and even now, years after this,                                             
when the wounds I left her had surely heald,                            (65)
and the woman is dead,
her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart
were broken, it is stilld

I would be a falcon and go free.                                              
I tread her wrist and wear the hood,                                          (70)
talking to myself, and would draw blood.
Allow me provide a few thoughts on this pleasing poem.  There is an obvious central metaphor that controls the poem: the narrator (let us assume it’s the poet himself) compares his relationship to his mother as a falcon is to a falconer.  The poem is in thirteen non-uniform stanzas, composed of seventy-one lines, non-metrical, and free verse.  I see three major parts dividing the poem.  The first being through stanza eight (line 49) where the relationship of child to mother, obedient falcon to the falconress, is developed.  The second from stanza nine through eleven (line 62) is the breaking away, and the third, stanzas twelve and thirteen, is a looking back years later. 
In the first part we see the mother as powerful, the strength, the teacher, and the nurturer in the relationship.  It's the majority of the poem.  The blood that is drawn is an intermingling, and in a strange way culminates in the narraotor's range—the falcon’s range figures prominently—being characterized from “the curb of [his] heart from her heart” (41).  In the second part, the blood drawn is a scratching free from the mother's authority.  Notice how Duncan transitions between stanzas ten and eleven, the moment of breaking free.  Duncan spills the sentence (lines 57 & 58) over the tenth to the eleventh stanza.  Every stanza ends in a period except the tenth.  The spilling over suggests a break from the form, a release, a moment of freedom.  Notice too how line 58 is extraordinarily long, a sort of flying free.
Finally in the third section, the poet looks back and sees his mother, now long dead, the falcon still treading on her wrist.  The bond between the two is immeasurable, continues on in perpetuity, their blood unified through nurture and lesson.  Nice poem.
Happy Mother’s Day.


  1. I can't help but recall the beautiful story you wrote about your mother and I just want to wish her a Happy belated Mother's Day.

    1. Thank you very much Victor. You are so kind. May you and your family be in God's blessing.