Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DEAD EAGLE; WRITTEN AT ORAN, by THOMAS CAMPBELL

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE DEAD EAGLE; WRITTEN AT ORAN, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Fallen as he is, this king of birds still seems
Last Line: Of glassy runnels bubbling over rocks.
Subject(s): Birds; Eagles; Oran, Algeria; Travel; Journeys; Trips

Fallen as he is, this king of birds still seems
Like royalty in ruins. Though his eyes
Are shut, that look undazzled on the sun,
He was the sultan of the sky, and earth
Paid tribute to his eyry. It was perched
Higher than human conqueror ever built
His bannered fort. Where Atlas' top looks o'er
Zahara's desert to the equator's line --
From thence the winged despot marked his prey,
Above the encampments of the Bedouins, ere
Their watchfires were extinct, or camels knelt
To take their loads, or horsemen scoured the plain;
And there he dried his feathers in the dawn,
Whilst yet the unwakened world was dark below.
There's such a charm in natural strength and power
That human fancy has for ever paid
Poetic homage to the bird of Jove.
Hence 'neath his image Rome arrayed her turms
And cohorts for the conquest of the world.
And, figuring his flight, the mind is filled
With thoughts that mock the pride of wingless man.
True the carred aeronaut can mount as high;
But what's the triumph of his volant art?
A rash intrusion on the realms of air.
His helmless vehicle a silken toy,
A bubble bursting in the thunder-cloud --
His course has no volition, and he drifts
The passive plaything of the winds. Not such
Was this proud bird: he clove the adverse storm,
And cuffed it with his wings. He stopped his flight
As easily as the Arab reins his steed,
And stood at pleasure 'neath heaven's zenith, like
A lamp suspended from its azure dome,
Whilst underneath him the world's mountains lay
Like molehills, and her streams like lucid threads.
Then downward, faster than a falling star,
He neared the earth until his shape distinct
Was blackly shadowed on the sunny ground,
And deeper terror hushed the wilderness
To hear his nearer whoop. Then up again
He soared and wheeled. There was an air of scorn
In all his movements, whether he threw round
His crested head to look behind him, or
Lay vertical and sportively displayed
The inside whiteness of his wing declined
In gyres and undulations full of grace,
An object beautifying heaven itself.
He -- reckless who was victor, and above
The hearing of their guns -- saw fleets engaged
In flaming combat. It was nought to him
What carnage, Moor or Christian, strewed their decks.
But, if his intellect had matched his wings,
Methinks he would have scorned man's vaunted power
To plough the deep. His pinions bore him down
To Algiers the warlike, or the coral groves
That blush beneath the green of Bona's waves,
And traversed in an hour a wider space
Than yonder gallant ship, with all her sails
Wooing the winds, can cross from morn till eve.
His bright eyes were his compass, earth his chart;
His talons anchored on the stormiest cliff,
And on the very lighthouse rock he perched
When winds churned white the waves.
The earthquake's self
Disturbed not him that memorable day
When o'er yon tableland, where Spain had built
Cathedrals, cannoned forts, and palaces,
A palsy-stroke of Nature shook Oran,
Turning her city to a sepulchre,
And strewing into rubbish all her homes;
Amidst whose traceable foundations now,
Of streets and squares, the hyaena hides himself.
That hour beheld him fly as careless o'er
The stifled shrieks of thousands buried quick
As lately when he pounced the speckled snake,
Coiled in yon mallows and wide nettle-fields
That mantle o'er the dead old Spanish town.
Strange is the imagination's dread delight
In objects linked with danger, death, and pain!
Fresh from the luxuries of polished life,
The echo of these wilds enchanted me;
And my heart beat with joy when first I heard
A lion's roar come down the Libyan wind
Across yon long, wide, lonely inland lake,
Where boat ne'er sails from homeless shore to shore.
And yet Numidia's landscape has its spots
Of pastoral pleasantness -- though far between.
The village planted near the Maraboot's
Round roof has aye its feathery palm-trees
Paired, for in solitude they bear no fruits.
Here nature's hues all harmonize -- fields white
With alasum or blue with bugloss -- banks
Of glossy fennel, blent with tulips wild
And sunflowers like a garment prankt with gold --
Acres and miles of opal asphodel,
Where sports and couches the black-eyed gazelle.
Here, too, the air's harmonious -- deep-toned doves
Coo to the fife-like carol of the lark;
And, when they cease, the holy nightingale
Winds up his long, long shakes of ecstasy,
With notes that seem but the protracted sounds
Of glassy runnels bubbling over rocks.

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