Stories > Jay's
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of
And danced the skies on
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the
Of sun-split clouds – and done a
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and
soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
I’ve chased the shouting wind along,
My eager craft through footless halls
Up, up, the long delirious burning
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights
with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And while with silent, lifting mind
The high untrespassed sanctity of
Put out my hand and touched the face
John Gillespie Magee
The young eagles gathered on the Story Rock, a high, lonely pinnacle
accessible only to the most daring flyers. Currents and
slipstreams of air buffeted them as the wind whistled and moaned
through the high peaks of the Hithaeglir.
The unwary could be blown sideways by a sudden gust just as they landed
on the rock, much to the amusement of others. They gathered to
share tales and stories, to brag of their prowess in flying – how high,
how far, how fast – or to boast of the rabbits and sheep they had
caught single-talonned. Sometimes one of the older eagles would
join them to tell tales of his youth – but that was rare, the old ones
seldom risked the treacherous crosswinds.
There was much jostling for position on the rock, and more than once
one would be pushed from the summit, tumbling downwards to a chorus of
jeers, only to spread his wings and circle in graceful spirals on an
updraft to land again on a less-favoured perch.
Today, one of the old veterans was there, more grey than golden,
casually preening his feathers as the youngsters around him gossiped
and whispered. They fell silent as he raised his head and stared
at them with clear, golden eyes. “I was young once, you
know. Oh, you may laugh now, my feathers may be grey with age and
I may no longer fly high – but I was young once.”
“That was a long time ago!” one called out. The speaker ignored
the interruption, and continued.
“As an eaglet I was considered daring and dashing – I could fly higher
than all others, so high I felt I could touch the sun. I could
fly the fastest, would chase and race the wind – and win.
Sky-Dancer I was called, and Silver-Wings. But all that was
Something in the old eagle’s voice halted all the murmurs and
restless movements. They were silent now, listening avidly.
“We had been aware of orcs and goblins multiplying in the mountains for
some time. They infested the slopes, crawling over the ground
like ants. Although they tried, they seldom troubled us, for they
could not reach our eyries – we nest far too high. But they
fought and killed the elves, who were our friends. They set
snares to catch the unwary – and sometimes they came across a
fledgling, fallen from the nest. You do not want to hear what
they did to those poor young birds.”
The silence was broken only by the whine of the wind. All knew of
the cruelty of the orcs and goblins. All could imagine.
The greying eagle shook himself and ruffled his feathers briefly.
“Where was I? Ah, yes. Gwaihir spoke with Mithrandir, the
wizard, and we agreed to help one another. We watched their
movements in the mountains as they mustered, and word was passed among
all the eyries in the Hithaeglir.
We too gathered in great numbers, ready for battle, and waited.”
“When the call went out, we came – swooping and riding the wind,
sweeping down on the goblins and their wargs. We could do nothing
about the creatures in the valley – the press of battle was too close
for us to fly – but there were many, many orcs swarming over the slopes
of the mountain and hills. We scratched and tore at their faces
with our talons, and fell on them, picking up the orcs and casting them
over the precipice. Our wings knocked them aside, off
cliffs and walls, down into the valley – where those that survived the
fall soon fell to the spears and swords of the bright elves.”
There were many comments now. “Did you kill all the goblins and
“The eagles won the battle for the men and elves, didn’t they!”
“Were any eagles hurt?”
On the wings of this remark, one young bird, scarcely more than a
fledgling, asked “Were you
The veteran preened himself briefly. “Did we kill them all?
No, not nearly. But we cleared the mountain slopes, and elves and
men who had become separated from their main forces could rejoin
them. We didn’t win the battle alone, but yes, we helped.
We were already allies with Mithrandir and the Elvenking, but that day
we swore friendship with the dwarves and the men of Esgaroth as
well. The dwarves even gave Gwaihir and his chieftains gold –
though what they expected him to do with it, I do not know.”
“Were any of the eagles hurt?” the young eagle insisted.
In answer, the old one stretched out his wing. There on the
underneath was a patch where the feathers grew white. “The
goblins had archers with them. They were poor shots, and we
soared and wheeled above them. But sometimes their arrows
hit. My wing was broken, and I fell from the mountain to the
valley below. I was lucky – I fell among the elves, not the
orcs. They took me to one of their own healers, who told me he
feared I would never fly again.”
The silence this time was horrified. To never fly again? To be an
eagle was to fly – wheeling
and soaring, hovering high above the land; dancing through the sky and
tumbling down the wind. To never fly again was unthinkable,
unbearable – death would be preferable.
“But – you flew here, didn’t you? How?”
The elder eagle spread his wings. “How? Because I would
never listen to advice. When told my wing would never heal, I did
not listen. When told I would never fly again, I would not
listen. This is how I
flew here.” With that, he stretched his wings wide, and leapt
into the wind. He swooped low over their heads, and they glimpsed
a golden collar encircling his neck. Then, catching an updraft of
air, he climbed up, up, higher than the mountains, higher than the
clouds, until he was a mere speck in the sky.
The young eagles watched until they could no longer see him. The
youngest, who had been questioning the veteran so intently,
sighed. “I wish I could take part in a battle. Do great
deeds. Be heroic. Can you imagine the cries – ‘The Eagles are coming!’ But
the battles are over now – there is nothing left for us to do.”
He sounded forlorn.
“Take heart, Meneldor. You are young and swift – you may yet have
chance to do great things. Wait and see.”
With a rush of wings, the eagles took to the air, soaring high, then
slowly wheeling down towards their eyries. Far above them, the
veteran slipped away from the bonds of Arda in his high flight.
The poem was written by a Canadian pilot aged 19,
during World War II.
are, of course, the Misty Mountains. I decided it was more likely
the eagles would use Sindarin names than Westron, as they avoided men.
This was written for the HASA World War I poetry
challenge – although this poem is in fact WWII.
Stories > Jay's