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Lay for the Day
26th January


1784: in a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin expresses his dissatisfaction with the eagle as the symbol of America (it had been incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States two years before). Franklin said the eagle was “a Bird of bad moral character, like those among Men who live by sharping and robbing”. His tongue perhaps a little in his cheek, he proposed instead the turkey, “a much more respectable bird”. In 1775, however, in a letter to the Pennsylvania Journal, Franklin had suggested a different national emblem altogether – the rattlesnake, for a number of ingenious reasons, among them that "she never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders”.



XI. The Eagle

I never loved so fervently before:
Before were prophecies and shadowings.
The greatest birds stretch out the most slow wings
And do not hasten to the hours they soar.
Before were sparrow-flights, short and unsure,
Fast-beating, full of comings and goings
From hedge to hedge, flung out like winnowings.
Now love’s eagle eyes vale and open moor.
But the eagle’s sudden and love is meek;
High-born one, while the other is lowly,
And stakes no claim on clouds down which to glide
To strike at the lamb with imperious beak.
No fault surpasses the false-named holy:
Do not let me, love, mistake love for pride.

 

John Gibbens
from Legacy


The Lay Reader
: an archive of the poetic calendar