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The Flight Of The Eagle
by [?]


“‘I, thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.'”

“They say that thou art sick, art growing old,
Thou Poet of unconquerable health,
With youth far-stretching, through the golden wealth
Of autumn, to Death’s frostful, friendly cold.
The never-blenching eyes, that did behold
Life’s fair and foul, with measureless content,
And gaze ne’er sated, saddened as they bent
Over the dying soldier in the fold
Of thy large comrade love;–then broke the tear!
War-dream, field-vigil, the bequeathed kiss,
Have brought old age to thee; yet, Master, now,
Cease not thy song to us; lest we should miss
A death-chant of indomitable cheer,
Blown as a gale from God;–oh sing it thou!”
ARRAN LEIGH (England).


Whoever has witnessed the flight of any of the great birds, as the eagle, the condor, the sea-gulls, the proud hawks, has perhaps felt that the poetic suggestion of the feathered tribes is not all confined to the sweet and tiny songsters,–the thrushes, canaries, and mockingbirds of the groves and orchards, or of the gilded cage in my lady’s chamber. It is by some such analogy that I would indicate the character of the poetry I am about to discuss, compared with that of the more popular and melodious singer,–the poetry of the strong wing and the daring flight.

Well and profoundly has a Danish critic said, in “For Ide og Virkelighed” (“For the Idea and the Reality”), a Copenhagen magazine:–

“It may be candidly admitted that the American poet has not the elegance, special melody, nor recherche aroma of the accepted poets of Europe or his own country; but his compass and general harmony are infinitely greater. The sweetness and spice, the poetic ennui, the tender longings, the exquisite art-finish of those choice poets are mainly unseen and unmet in him,–perhaps because he cannot achieve them, more likely because he disdains them. But there is an electric living soul in his poetry, far more fermenting and bracing. His wings do not glitter in their movement from rich and varicolored plumage, nor are his notes those of the accustomed song-birds; but his flight is the flight of the eagle.”

Yes, there is not only the delighting of the ear with the outpouring of sweetest melody and its lessons, but there is the delighting of the eye and soul through that soaring and circling in the vast empyrean of “a strong bird on pinions free,”–lessons of freedom, power, grace, and spiritual suggestion,–vast, unparalleled, formless lessons.

It is now upwards of twenty years since Walt Whitman printed (in 1855) his first thin beginning volume of “Leaves of Grass;” and, holding him to the test which he himself early proclaimed, namely, “that the proof of the poet shall be sternly deferred till his country has absorb’d him as affectionately as he has absorb’d it,” he is yet on trial, yet makes his appeal to an indifferent or to a scornful audience. That his complete absorption, however, by his own country and by the world, is ultimately to take place, is one of the beliefs that grows stronger and stronger within me as time passes, and I suppose it is with a hope to help forward this absorption that I write of him now. Only here and there has he yet effected a lodgment, usually in the younger and more virile minds. But considering the unparalleled audacity of his undertaking, and the absence in most critics and readers of anything like full-grown and robust aesthetic perception, the wonder really is not that he should have made such slow progress, but that he should have gained any foothold at all. The whole literary technique of the race for the last two hundred years has been squarely against him, laying, as it does, the emphasis upon form and scholarly endowments instead of upon aboriginal power and manhood.