Monday, May 16, 2005

What is love?

Our campus is home to several red-tailed hawks, magnificent birds that show no fear of humans. I have watched one of the birds devour a squirrel or a rabbit from only a dozen feet away.

Here are Audubon's Red-tailed hawks, male and female, caught in midair, the male's wings swept back, his talons tearing at the female, seeking to snatch from her the frightened hare in her claws. The painting was done in Louisiana in 1821, not long after Audubon witnessed the airborne battle.

It was Audubon's genius that he was able to combine lively storytelling with accurate scientific description. He refused to prettify nature or soften its apparent cruelty. The hare in the female's talons can almost be seen to shiver and whimper with fright. Its belly is streaked with blood and urine.

As I watch our campus hawks -- their magnificient aliveness -- I think of lines from Robert Penn Warren's poem, Audubon: A Vision:

He slew them, at surprising distances, with his gun.
Over a body held in his hand, his head was bowed low,
But not in grief.

He put them where they are, and there we see them:
In our imagination.

What is love?

One name for it is knowledge.