David Reads “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” by Walt Whitman

English: Walt Whitman. Library of Congress des...

Library of Congress description: “Walt Whitman”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I haven’t written much about birds lately, as my son the Monkey, likes to point out, so since spring is finally here I stopped my car on the way home yesterday by some ponds around the quarry. I was happy to see some waterfowl, a few common mergansers, along with the requisite Canada Geese, and some ducks I couldn’t identify from the distance at which I was standing. There was a gate up over the quarry road, and though I had tossed my binoculars and spotting scope in the trunk, I had forgotten the tripod. Oh well. I’m thinking of a trip to Faylor Lake after my work-weekend is over. I should be able to do some good birding there, since migration is well underway and things are warming up.

I also witnessed the flight of a beautiful Great Blue Heron, so prehistoric looking in her wingspan and shape, that folded neck, the sheer size! I remember the first time I saw one fly. I was in a small hallow along Red Run, on the Black Forest Trail up in northern Pennsylvania. The bird was startled by my fumbling along, and I hadn’t seen her. But when she spread her enormous wings not five yards from me and took off in flight, it was obvious to me why science has discovered a link between dinosaurs and birds.

But the other impressive birds I saw were two large, juvenile Bald Eagles. I could tell they were immature by the way they stuck their tongues out at me as they flew by. Well, okay, no. You can tell by the heavily patched white feathers on the brown background underneath. They were probably second year birds, not yet with white heads. I was following the flight of the first one in my field glasses when I saw the second one flap into view. It was rather a windy day, even for eagles, and I wondered if these had wintered here, maybe a pair hatched nearby.

There have been several sightings of nests along the main branch of the Susquehanna between Danville and Northumberland, and I was parked on a dirt road mid-way between the two towns. I had seen the silhouette of eagles flying along that ridge on the way to work a few times late in the fall, but hadn’t seen any over the winter. Though I admit I have been a cold and lazy birder this winter, and was only watching from the car as I drove through.

Newly Fledged Juvenile Bald Eagle

Newly Fledged Juvenile Bald Eagle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though these two were too young to be engaged in the sort of dalliance that Walt Whitman is talking about in today’s poem, they did make me think of this piece. It was the first of Whitman’s short poems I had ever read, having been made to struggle through the lists of “Song of Myself” by a high school teacher who, I think, not loving it herself, seemed to make it a drudgery for us in class. After this poem, which I loved, I found myself going back and reading more and more of Whitman myself until I found myself a convert of the man I consider the father of modern American Poetry.

I hope you don’t mind that I’m running late this time, as it’s nearly quarter past midnight. Still for those on the West Coast, I’m well under the deadline, ah hem, for day five’s recording, as I attempt to bring you a recording per day. Maybe that’s not a huge accomplishment compared to some who do this regularly (I’ll give some links to them soon!), but for me, it’s an achievement indeed.  I tried to capture the spirit of the dramatic description, and this is the first I noticed that there are no commas in the phrase, “tumbling turning clustering loops.” So I tried to read that line at an appropriate speed. Interesting that I could have known this poem so many years, and just tonight find something new. This is one of the things I love most about good poetry. It. Never. Gets. Old.

The Dalliance of the Eagles

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.

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14 thoughts on “David Reads “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” by Walt Whitman

  1. Oh, Walt…
    I have a hard time reading this poem without envisioning the person saying it using a great deal of hand gestures.

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    • Haha! Funny you should say that, I couldn’t properly read it without twirling and turning my hands about. I had to tone that down to concentrate on the diction.

      I think his use of punctuation is brilliant here. Using none in one phrase to capture the speed of the fall, then breaking a line into three distinct phrases, separated by commas to show the slow down and parting just before the end. I think his attention to detail does not get enough attention in scholarly commentary.

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  2. So great to see you out with your binocs this spring. As you write in today’s post, seeing birds is one of the most hopeful and life-affirming things about this awkward transition from winter to spring.

    Isn’t it fantastic how great blue herons can look so awkward and so elegant at the same time?!

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    • Yes, I agree. Nothing says it’s real quite like migration, except maybe mating season itself. 🙂 And yes, you capture it precisely in saying they have the mix of awkward and elegant. Reminds me of how Pete Dunne described the turkey vulture’s “graceful wobble” as it soars, bucked by the winds.

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