Student’s the tension which results from the onset
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English 9 Honors
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Sample Poem Analysis
Charles Spurgeon, a British Baptist preacher, once stated, “Anxiety does not empty
tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” In Robert Phillips’s poem “The
Panic Bird,” he illustrates the instantaneous mental and physical effects of panic on the body.
The debilitating and intensely vicious nature of panic is all-consuming.
Figurative language captures the tension which results from the onset of this distressing
occurrence. For example, the unrest that usually resides in the speaker’s mind proceeds to
“rattling ribs like a birdcage” (4). This “rattling” angst cannot escape the speaker’s body. The
simile portrays how such unease becomes trapped as if in a “birdcage.” Such confinement
creates feelings of anxiety and immediate discomfort from which the speaker cannot find relief.
In addition, the speaker plans to take hold of the bird and “wring it like a wet dish rag” (8). The
speaker’s intention is to “wring” the energy from the attack itself. He refuses to succumb to this
torment. Just as a “wet dish rag” is twisted to eliminate excess water, the speaker attempts to
strike first and do away with this internal trauma. The unrelenting characteristics of this
powerful sensation inhibit the speaker’s ability to resist the stress he undergoes.
Violent imagery brings to life the unsettling dread experienced by the speaker. For
instance, as this feeling comes to rest inside the speaker, “it flaps, it cries, it glares, / it rages, it
struts, it thrusts / its clacking beak into my liver” (14-16). The speaker endures an assault on his
senses: “flaps” causes acute kinesthetic sensations; the auditory effects of “cries” and “clacking”
over-stimulate his nerves; and “glares” delivers destructive intent. The quick repetition of “it”
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serves to demonstrate how the speaker cannot withstand this onslaught of “thrusts” in rapid
succession. Moreover, the bird’s attack against the speaker’s vital organs causes his body to “fill
with black blood, black bile” (18). A familiar and mild nervousness is described as feeling
butterflies in the stomach. The speaker, however, is incapacitated by this ordeal as he perceives
to be drowning in his bodily fluids. The speaker is unable to control his reaction to the threats
which constitute this affliction.
At its most basic level, panic is a sudden onset of overwhelming physiological responses.
Its emotional toll can be severe and such taxing side effects can prevent an individual from living
with freedom. Learning to calmly manage each incident encourages composure and confidence
in daily life.