The Caged Eagle’s Death Dream - Poem by Robinson Jeffers
While George went to the house
For his revolver, Michal climbed up the hill
Weeping; but when he came with death in his hand
She'd not go away, but watched. At the one shot
The great dark bird leaped at the roof of the cage
In silence and struck the wood; it fell, then suddenly
Looked small and soft, muffled in its folded wings.
The nerves of men after they die dream dimly
And dwindle into their peace; they are not very passionate,
And what they had was mostly spent while they lived.
They are sieves for leaking desire; they have many pleasures
And conversations; their dreams too are like that.
The unsocial birds are a greater race;
Cold-eyed, and their blood burns. What leaped up to death,
The extension of one storm-dark wing filling
Was more than the soft garment that fell. Something had flown
away. Oh cage-hoarded desire,
Like the blade of a breaking wave reaped by the wind, or flame
rising from fire, or cloud-coiled lightning
Suddenly unfurled in the cave of heaven: I that am stationed,
and cold at heart, incapable of burning,
My blood like standing sea-water lapped in a stone pool, my desire
to the rock, how can I speak of you?
Mine will go down to the deep rock.
Possessing the air over its emptied prison,
The eager powers at its shoulders waving shadowless
Unwound the ever-widened spirals of flight
As a star light, it spins the night-stabbing threads
From its own strength and substance: so the aquiline desire
Burned itself into meteor freedom and spired
Higher still, and saw the mountain-dividing
Canyon of its captivity (that was to Cawdor
Almost his world) like an old crack in a wall,
Violet-shadowed and gold-lighted; the little stain
Spilt on the floor of the crack was the strong forest;
The grain of sand was the Rock. A speck, an atomic
Center of power clouded in its own smoke
Ran and cried in the crack; it was Cawdor; the other
Points of humanity had neither weight nor shining
To prick the eyes of even an eagle's passion.
This burned and soared. The shining ocean below lay on the
Like the great shield of the moon come down, rolling bright rim
to rim with the earth. Against it the multiform
And many-canyoned coast-range hills were gathered into one
carven mountain, one modulated
Eagle's cry made stone, stopping the strength of the sea. The
beaked and winged effluence
Felt the air foam under its throat and saw
The mountain sun-cup Tassajara, where fawns
Dance in the steam of the hot fountains at dawn,
Smoothed out, and the high strained ridges beyond Cachagua,
Where the rivers are born and the last condor is dead,
Flatten, and a hundred miles toward morning the Sierras
Dawn with their peaks of snow, and dwindle and smooth down
On the globed earth.
It saw from the height and desert space of
Where meteors make green fire and die, the ocean dropping
westward to the girdle of the pearls of dawn
And the hinder edge of the night sliding toward Asia; it saw
far under eastward the April-delighted
Continent; and time relaxing about it now, abstracted from being,
it saw the eagles destroyed,
Mean generations of gulls and crows taking their world: turn
for turn in the air, as on earth
The white faces drove out the brown. It saw the white decayed
and the brown from Asia returning;
It saw men learn to outfly the hawk's brood and forget it again;
it saw men cover the earth and again
Devour each other and hide in caverns, be scarce as wolves. It
neither wondered nor cared, and it saw
Growth and decay alternate forever, and the tides returning.
It saw, according to the sight of its kind, the archetype
Body of life a beaked carnivorous desire
Self-upheld on storm-broad wings: but the eyes
Were spouts of blood; the eyes were gashed out; dark blood
Ran from the ruinous eye-pits to the hook of the beak
And rained on the waste spaces of empty heaven.
Yet the great Life continued; yet the great Life
Was beautiful, and she drank her defeat, and devoured
Her famine for food.
There the eagle's phantom perceived
Its prison and its wound were not its peculiar wretchedness,
All that lives was maimed and bleeding, caged or in blindness,
Lopped at the ends with death and conception, and shrewd
Cautery of pain on the stumps to stifle the blood, but not
Refrains for all that; life was more than its functions
And accidents, more important than its pains and pleasures,
A torch to burn in with pride, a necessary
Ecstasy in the run of the cold substance,
And scape-goat of the greater world. (But as for me,
I have heard the summer dust crying to be born
As much as ever flesh cried to be quiet.)
Pouring itself on fulfilment the eagle's passion
Left life behind and flew at the sun, its father.
The great unreal talons took peace for prey
Exultantly, their death beyond death; stooped upward, and struck
Peace like a white fawn in a dell of fire.
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