Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell

July 27, 1777 - June 15, 1844


The Dead Eagle

by Thomas Campbell

Written at Oran.

Fall'n 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 perch'd
Higher than human conqueror ever built
His banner'd fort. Where Atlas' top looks o'er
Zahara's desert to the equator's line:
From thence the winged despot mark'd his prey,
Above th' encampments of the Bedouins, ere
Their watchfires were extinct, or camels knelt
To take their loads, or horsemen scour'd the plain,
And there he dried his feathers in the dawn,
Whilst yet th' unwaken'd 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 array'd her turms
And cohorts for the conquest of the world.
And figuring his flight, the mind is fill'd
With thoughts that mock the pride of wingless man.
True the carr'd 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 cuff'd it with his wings. He stopp'd 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 mole hills, and her streams like lucid threads.
Then downward, faster than a falling star,
He near'd the earth, until his shape distinct
Was blackly shadow'd on the sunny ground;
And deeper terror hush'd the wilderness,
To hear his nearer whoop. Then, up again
He soar'd and wheel'd. 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 display'd
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, strew'd their decks.
But if his intellect had match'd his wings,
Methinks he would have scorn'd 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 anchor'd on the stormiest cliff,
And on the very light-house rock he perch'd,
When winds churn'd white the waves.

The earthquake's self
Disturb'd not him that memorable day,
When, o'er yon table-land, where Spain had built,
Cathedrals, cannon'd forts, and palaces,
A palsy stroke of Nature shook Oran,1
Turning her city to a sepulchre,
And strewing into rubbish all her homes;
Amidst whose traceable foundations now,
Of streets and squares, the hyena 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,
Coil'd 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 link'd with danger, death and pain!
Fresh from the luxuries of polish'd 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 Lybian 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
Pair'd, 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.

Notes to the poem:

1 A palsy-stroke of Nature shook Oran, In the year 1790, Oran, the most western city in the Algerine Regency, which had been possessed by Spain for more than a hundred years, and fortified at an immense expense, was destroyed by an earthquake; six thousand of its inhabitants were buried under the ruins.


The Poetical Works Of Thomas Campbell
Copyright 1866
Little, Brown, And Company, Boston