The Panic Bird
By Robert Phillips
just flew inside my chest. Some
days it lights inside my brain,
but today it’s in my bonehouse,
rattling ribs like a birdcage.
If I saw it coming, I’d fend it
off with machete or baseball bat.
Or grab its scrawny hackled neck,
wring it like a wet dishrag.
But it approaches from behind.
Too late I sense it at my back —
carrion, garbage, excrement.
Once inside me it preens, roosts,
vulture on a public utility pole.
Next it flaps, it cries, it glares,
it rages, it struts, it thrusts
its clacking beak into my liver,
my guts, my heart, rips off strips.
I fill with black blood, black bile.
This may last minutes or days.
Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings,
rises, is gone, leaving a residue —
foul breath, droppings, molted midnight
feathers. And life continues.
And then I’m prey to panic again.
Summary of The Panic Bird
- Popularity of “The Panic Bird”: “The Panic Bird” by Robert Phillips, an influential American poet, and author, is a sorrowful poem about an unusual topic. The poem explains the nature of the panic attack as well as its lasting side effects. It explains how this unseen enemy tears you apart from the inside and leaves you vulnerable for the rest of your life. Although the poem gains immense popularity for its universal thematic strand, yet the stark comparison of panic with a vulture adds meaning to it.
- “The Panic Bird” As a Representative of Extreme Misery: This poem elaborates how panic disorders make a person stressed, weak, and fragile. Comparing it to a bird, the poet announces the arrival of panic. He compares it to a bird that enters his chest in the form of fear and later changes its place inside his body, creating chaos, disturbance, and disorder. He further states that if he has seen it coming, he would have stopped his enemy using all his muscular power. Unfortunately, it obstructs him after entering his body and damaging the course of his life. To make his audience aware of his acute misery, he says that anxiety never leaves you once you have an attack. It instead sits and waits for another chance to attack, and when it happens, you lose your control. Also, you cannot stop the torture it causes to your mental and physical health.
- Major Themes in “The Panic Bird”: Anxiety, the nature of panic attacks, and their damaging impacts on human beings are the key themes of the poem. The poet uses the metaphor of a caged bird to show the misery and struggle of the man having acute panic attacks. He seems locked up in a dark place where there is no way out. No matter how hard he tries to free himself from this unwanted darkness, he gets trapped in it. It not only sucks his inner peace but also leaves him in the midst of nowhere. There seems no escape from it. However, if one wants to get rid of this challenging situation, he should learn to overcome it.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Panic Bird”
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ and /o/ in “Once inside me it preens, roosts” and the sound of /e/ in “just flew inside my chest. Some.”
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /b/ in “black blood, black bile” and /s/ sound in “sickle-shaped wings.”
- Allusion: Allusion is a belief and an indirect reference of a person, place, thing, or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. The poet has used this device at the end of the poem where the bird alludes to the Grim Reaper such as;
“Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings,
rises, is gone, leaving a residue.”
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /n/ in “Once inside me it preens, roosts” and the sound of /r/ in “carrion, garbage, excrement.”
- Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;
“just flew inside my chest. Some
days it lights inside my brain,”
- Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning. The writer has used this device in the third stanza of the poem while talking about the arrival of panic such as;
“But it approaches from behind.
Too late I sense it at my back.”
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Robert Phillips has used imagery in this poem such as “just flew inside my chest”, “foul breath, droppings, molted midnight” and “Next it flaps, it cries, it glares.”
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of metaphor in the fifth stanza such as “Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings.”
- Simile: A simile is used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. Robert Phillips has used this device in the opening stanza of the poem to show the pain of the bird such as “rattling ribs like a birdcage.”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols of pain, suffering, and darkness just to show what distress they bring to us.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Panic Bird”
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having metaphors, similes, and impressive images.
- Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
- Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, each stanza is a quatrain.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This poem has six stanzas with each comprising the same number of verses.
Quotes to be Used
These lines from “The Panic Bird “are relevant to use when teaching about the harmful impact of dispassion, anxiety, and panic on human beings.
“I fill with black blood, black bile.
This may last minutes or days.
Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings.”