The Eagle and the Serpent
In the air do I behold indeed An Eagle and a Serpent wreathed in fight:-- And now, relaxing its impetuous flight, Before the aërial rock on which I stood, The Eagle, hovering, wheeled to left and right, And hung with lingering wings over the flood, And startled with its yells the wide air's solitude. A shaft of light upon its wings descended, And every golden feather gleamed therein-- Feather and scale inextricably blended. The Serpent's mailed and many-colored skin Shone through the plumes its coils were twined within By many a swollen and knotted fold, and high And far, the neck receding lithe and thin, Sustained a crested head, which warily Shifted and glanced before the Eagle's steadfast eye. Around, around, in ceaseless circles wheeling With clang of wings and scream, the Eagle sailed Incessantly--sometimes on high concealing Its lessening orbs, sometimes as if it failed, Drooped through the air; and still it shrieked and wailed, And casting back its eager head, with beak And talon unremittingly assailed The wreathèd Serpent, who did ever seek Upon his enemy's heart a mortal wound to wreak. What life, what power, was kindled and arose Within the sphere of that appalling fray! For, from the encounter of those wondrous foes, A vapor like the sea's suspended spray Hung gathered; in the void air, far away, Floated the shattered plumes; bright scales did leap, Where'er the Eagle's talons made their way, Like sparks into the darkness;--as they sweep, Blood stains the snowy foam of the tumultuous deep. Swift chances in that combat--many a check, And many a change, a dark and wild turmoil! Sometimes the Snake around his enemy's neck Locked in stiff rings his adamantine coil, Until the Eagle, faint with pain and toil, Remitted his strong flight, and near the sea Languidly fluttered, hopeless so to foil His adversary, who then reared on high His red and burning crest, radiant with victory. Then on the white edge of the bursting surge, Where they had sunk together, would the Snake Relax his suffocating grasp, and scourge The wind with his wild writhings; for, to break That chain of torment, the vast bird would shake The strength of his unconquerable wings As in despair, and with his sinewy neck Dissolve in sudden shock those linkèd rings-- Then soar, as swift as smoke from a volcano springs. Wile baffled wile, and strength encountered strength, Thus long, but unprevailing. The event Of that portentous fight appeared at length. Until the lamp of day was almost spent It had endured, when lifeless, stark and rent, Hung high that mighty Serpent, and at last Fell to the sea, while o'er the continent With clang of wings and scream the Eagle passed, Heavily borne away on the exhausted blast. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), fra The Revolt of Islam I, v. 66-126. - billede fra Punch vol. 99, 13. september 1890.