Explication of "Bushed" by Earle Birney?


"Bushed" is a poem about man's interaction with nature, moving from his initial position of falsely believing he can control nature—"he invented a rainbow"—to a final position of feeling terrified that nature is about to kill him. The title has, arguably, a dual meaning: clearly, the poem is about the experience of being in the wilderness ("the bush") and also about feeling defeated or "bushed" by this experience.

The man in the poem we can interpret to be an avatar for mankind, rather than referring, necessarily, to a specific person. As time goes on, man's initial optimism is "shattered" by natural forces ("lightning"); nature's power is "so big his mind slowed when he looked at it." Despite this sense of being overwhelmed, however, man prevails for a time, learning to "roast porcupine belly" and wearing the quills of the porcupine on his hat as evidence of the skills he has acquired. Soon, however, nature begins to reprove man for this show of pride: "alive," it "boomed proclamations at noon," while the creatures of the mountain—the goats and ospreys—seem to take on human characteristics and motivations. The man feels "derided" by owls in the woods (the adjective "beardusky" suggests that they are dark and the man speculates they are full of bears). The cedars around the swamps, likewise, are "moosehorned," as if concealing dangerous animals inside them, just outside the man's sight, adding to his sense of paranoia.

Eventually, the man comes to believe that the wind is "shaping" the mountain into an "arrowhead" poised to "come singing into his heart." He has become so crushed under the weight of nature and his growing knowledge of its power over him (and his powerlessness before it) that he feels paralyzed, unable to do anything except wait for nature to kill him.

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