Manuel Espinosa Professor Stefanovic ENC 1102 21 February 2013 NIGHTHAWKS “Nighthawks” by Samuel Yellen is a poem about three individuals who are troubled with life. These individuals are occupying the same space and they appear to be relatively close from each other, but they arein fact disconnected from one another. The speaker sets a hopeless tone to help the reader analyze and really understand the characters’ feelings. This is a poem based on a famouspainting by Edward Hopper that portrays people sitting in a downtown diner late at night.
Yellen wants his readersto be able to recognize that caring and affection is the easiest way to a successful and joyful human interaction. The poem’s setting takes place at “the corner of Empty and Bleak” (1) and the time is the “night’s most desolated hour” (2). Empty corners and night hours are an infamous mix. Evil deeds are performed at desolate corners during odd hours of the night. In the corner is “Al’s Coffee Cup or the Hamburger Tower” (3), only cheap and plain shops would stay open till late hours at night and the servers would use language like “be with you in a jiff” (7).
Inside the establishment there are “three nighthawks seated there” (6). Yellenuses nighthawks because the characters meet at night and hawks are lonely animals which “in this drama do not speak” (4). Another connotation is to perceive hawks as ferocious and independent creatures or how Yellen better describe them “patrons of life” (6). One of the nighthawks, “[t]he single man whose hunched back we see” (9) challenged his fate when he “put a gun to his head in Russian roulette” (10). Even though he “won the bet” (11) his body posture indicates he is troubled or pensive. And now he lives his x years’ guarantee” (12). The speaker wants to clarify that the character might off cheated death that time by dying is inevitable. Then, we have “facing us, the two central characters” (13). They “[h]ave finished their coffee, and have lit [a] contemplative cigarette” (14-15). These characters are meditative; cigarette smoking is associated with worried or stressed individuals. “His hand lies close, but not touching hers” (16). Now it is understood there is a male and a female character. The speaker points out that they are close but not ouching each other, describing no emotional connection between the characters. A sexual connection is implied when the speaker refers to “a darkened room” (17) and continues to give explicit details of this encounter “[m]outh burned mouth, flesh beat ground [o]n a ravaged flesh” (18-19). Yellen wants to show readers the difference between a sexual act and an intimate connection. This couple shared the ultimate bonding experience between two human beings and yet they were not able to connect spiritually but only physically.
The speaker gives example of this when he mentions “[n]o local habitation and no name” (20). The speaker finishes the poem with a sarcastic tone. He implies that everyone that “peer through that curve of plate glass” (5) should be fortune “to be none of these! ” (21) referring to the nighthawks. He assumes that anybody who compares themselves with these characters, using the “complacent eye” (22), should be pleased with what they see. With this conclusion Yellen sets himself aside and delivers a powerfully message to the readers.
He feels superior to the characters and wants to project that feeling to his readers, not taking in consideration or really understanding the reason the characters are in these situations in the first place. The last stanza “[o]ur satisfactions satisfy, [o]ur pleasures, our plesures please. ” (23-24), makes emphasis on the way the speaker feels and wants the readers to feel about their own accomplishments, but leaving out the way they should feel about their fellow man. The speaker projects itself as a selfish individual who does not care about less fortunate individuals.
It is often said that to have a better world we should care for one another. Yellen’s idea of human connection shows the total opposite, he emphasizes on his characters’ faults instead of his qualities. This poem contains many problems that our society faces on a daily basis but unfortunately for the readers, Yellen focused on showing the problem but does not offer a solution. Work Cited McMahan, Elizabeth, Susan X Day, Robert Funk, Linda Coleman. Literature and the Writing Process. Ninth Ed. Boston: Longman. 2011. Print Rafeeq O. McGiveron (1998): Yellen’s Nighthawks, The Explicator, 56:3,148-149