Hernandez uses the first line of the poem as a statement: “Pigeons are the spiks of Birdland” (Hernandez 1023). This provides a sound introduction to the theme and the tone of the rest of the poem that is to come. Hernandez was Hispanicwhich somehow makes the word ‘spiks’ even more shocking; this was, no doubt, intentional. He uses this opening line again at the end of the poem, which works well in concluding and installing the theme, once again, into his readers.
The poet has made the choice to write Pigeons in an one block stanza, rather than breaking it down into a more traditional form. On first glance it looks like it may have been written in loose blank verse as many of the lines contain around ten syllables. However, on closer inspection, there are too many short lines interspersed, such as ‘I tell you,’ which contains only three syllables. Therefore Pigeons would appear to be a freeverse poem. There also doesn’t seem to be any obvious rhyming scheme.
The tone of Pigeons is informal and the poet speaks directly to the reader or listener. Hernandez uses colloquial language throughout, such as “once in a while, some creatures will treat them decent.” The tone is also relaxed and conversational, but feelings of bitterness can be felt throughout. The feel of the poem is dull, like a grey and rainy day, which is interesting as there is no real mention of the weather except a reference to the seasons.
The overall theme of Pigeons is racism. Hernandez demonstrates, through his poem, his view that Hispanics are never treated as insiders, but always as outsiders in American society.
Throughout the poem, Hernandez shows how pigeons are treated in a negative and condescending way, for example, “so they are not accepted anywhere. Nobody wants to give pigeons a job” and “most everybody passing up a pigeon pack tries to break it up because they move funny.”
He also discusses the treatment of other pet birds: “Parakeets, canaries and parrots
have the market sown up as far as that goes. They live in fancy cages, get 3 meals a day for a song and dance routine.” He then goes on to compare this treatment to that of pigeons: “When was the last time you saw a pigeon in someone’s home? Unless they bleached their feathers white and try to pass off as doves, you will never see pet pigeons. Besides, their accents give them away when they start cooing.”
This is an interesting section of the poem as it highlights Hernandez’s view that Hispanics are treated with less respect than white American people. Speaking of the colour of the pigeons’ feathers and also their accents, the poet is, again, drawing a direct link to the colour of Hispanics’ skin and to their foreign accents.
The poet acknowledges the occasional acts of kindness that pigeons receive: “Once in a while, some creatures will treat them decent. They are known as pigeon ladies, renegades, or bleeding-heart Liberals.” He then goes on to compare the boxes put together for pigeons to the substandard housing that Hispanics tend to have to live in, in America: “What they do is build these wooden cages on rooftops that look like huge pigeon housing projects where they freeze during the winters and get their little claws stuck in tar on hot summer days.” In the same way, he comments on how pigeons “can’t afford to fly south or a Florida winter home.” This is a clear reference to Hispanics don’t tend to have much money and therefore can’t afford to do things that many Americans do.
The poet has used powerful imagery throughout the poem. Obviously, the central image is that of the pigeon. The reader is left with a clear picture in their mind of pigeons in the various situations that Hernandez has written about. A particularly strong image is near the beginning of the poem, where he compares pigeons to troublesome youths on the streets: “…they move funny and seem to be dancing like young street thugs with an 18-foot, 10-speaker Sanyo book box radio on a 2-foot red shoulder strap.”
He also uses colour when describing the pigeons. He does this on two separate occasions: “Pigeons have feathers of a different colour. They are too bright to be dull and too dull to be bright” and “Unless they bleached their feathers white and try to pass off as doves.” This further confirms the racism theme.
Hernandez makes good use of the senses in his poem. He uses lots of imagery, and also refers to sound, such as the pigeons on the street like thugs with a radio, and the pigeons’ accents or ‘cooing’ giving them away as being pigeons.
Pigeons is a powerful poem with an obvious theme that is adhered to throughout. Hernandez uses imagery and symbolism to compare the view and opinions of pigeons to those of Hispanics. Perhaps one of the best qualities of this poem is its accessibility. The poet has used colloquial language and everyday imagery to portray his message, and the result is very successful.
Schilb, John, and John Clifford. Making Literature Matter. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000: 1023-1024. Print.