Eliza Lee Follen


Hail, noble captive! king of birds!
What tongue can tell thy misery!
Were thy dumb sorry put in words,
What heart that would not pity thee?
Undazzled to the orb of day
Thine eye of light looks up in vain:
It cannot melt thy chains away;
Thou never shalt be free again.
Flap thy broad wings, spend all thy strength;
Scream on, poor bird! you idly rave:
That royal crest shall droop at length;
For thou art doomed to be a slave.
Thou look'st up to the hollow skies,
Where thou hast wound thy spiral flight,---
Those azure depths where human eyes
Shrink from the intolerable light.
Thou gazest till thou dost forget
The weight and pressure of thy chain;
And, upward striving, thinkest yet
Thy bright blue home thou shalt regain.
Vain is thy spirit's eager bound,
And all in vain thy noble birth;
Fettered thou liest on the ground,
A clod-bound, common thing of earth.
My heart aches for thee, noble bird!
Fain would I free thee, if I could;
But more it longs to hear that word
Which endeth human servitude.
I have no right to waste on thee,
Poor thing! the power of sympathy:
Forgetful of the agony
Of human hearts in slavery.

COMMENT: The eagle became an emblem of the United States with
Congress's approval of the seal design in 1782. A number of
American poets of the nineteenth century wrote eagle poems,
some variations on the Romantic symbol of a bird as a figure of the
spirit of poetic imagination or genius. Follen avoids treating
the eagle as the vehicle for a metaphor, instead moving
metonymically to the institution of slavery; the last stanza
suggests it is immoral to waste emotion on the figure when the
political fact exists.