Robinson Jeffers





The Caged Eagle's Death Dream
from Cawdor

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 its world, 
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. 
                                                         This rose, 
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         
      shore 
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 
      unbreathable air 
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.