The entire poem is a metaphor taken literally it can be considered just a short story about a man stranded on a beach. He wakes up early in the morning, awake and very alive, he goes to sleep feeling secure. He learns how to survive by eating porcupine bellies and keeping their quills as a prize for his hunting and survival skills. Taken on the metaphorical level it is all about a man who created a perfect life fore himself, a rainbow as Earle Birney put it. His perfect life was ruined by some unknown catastrophe, "But lightning struck it shattered it into the lake-lap." He refers to lake-lap as the calm life he was leading, always monotone and continuous that was disturbed by the incident that may have ruined his life. Yet this man faced this as a new beginning, as a survivor. Birney uses the roasting of the porcupine bellies as a symbol of his facing the difficult situations that faced him in stride. He uses those situations to his advantage and takes pride in the way he handles them thus the reference to keeping the quills in his hat.
In the third stanza Birney shows us through a series of metaphorical actions the characters evolution in his attitude towards the entire situation. At first our character is still unsure and alert at all that is happening around him, " At first he was out with the dawn." Yet he becomes more and more sure of himself and feels very secure, " A guard of goat before falling asleep on its feet at sundown." Earle Birney uses the goat as a metaphor for security because a goat does not slip of the rocky mountain tops that our character is reaching for.
In the last stanzas the poem changes tone. It goes from a happy survival to a loss of security. The life he thought he was living and the people around him start changing showing their true colors. Everything is, "Shaping it?s peak to an arrowhead poised." The mountain which seemed like a dream is becoming the new tool to destroy his new rainbow, his new life. Earle Birney leaves us in the last stanza on the note, " And now he could only bar himself in and wait." All our character can do is see his dreams shatter so he can start over again. We can only conclude that it is a cycle that those who are not osprey, hunters and users will have to endure.
On the technical side Birney writes his poem in prose therefore the only thing that can give us the feeling for the poem is the use of tone. This however, does not remain constant it changes halfway from a more happy poem to a dark, evil poem. One strange thing about Birney?s style is his lack of structure one can only wonder if it is to bring more attention to the meaning of the poem in contrast to it?s structure or just a coincidence.
This reminds me of Lord of the Flies by Golding. Both this poem and the story are metaphors of mans reactions in society. I actually find this poem depressing if Birney is right only those who are willing to sacrifice love and friendship will survive.