The Homages of Eagle
by Thomas Lowe Taylor
"Nothing conceivable is so petty, so insipid, so crowded with paltry interests—in one word, so anti-poetic—as the life of a man in the United States. . . . Among a democratic people poetry will not be fed with legends or the memorials of old traditions. The poet will not attempt to people the universe with supernatural beings, in whom his readers and his own fancy have ceased to believe; nor will he coldly personify virtues and vices, which are better received under their own features. All these resources fail him; but Man remains, and the poet needs no more."
"No Muse-poet grows conscious of the Muse except by experience of a woman in whom the Goddess is to some degree resident; just as no Apollonian poet can perform his proper function unless he lives under a monarchy or a quasi-monarchy. A Muse-poet falls in love, absolutely, and his true love is for him the embodiment of the Muse. . . . But the real, perpetually obsessed Muse-poet distinguishes between the Goddess as manifest in the supreme power, glory, wisdom and love of woman, and the individual woman whom the Goddess may make her instrument. . . . The Goddess abides; and perhaps he will again have knowledge of her through his experience of another woman. . . . Being in love does not, and should not, blind the poet to the cruel side of woman's nature—and many Muse-poems are written in helpless attestation of this by men whose love is no longer returned."
"Das Ewig-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan."
"If the language seems logoclastic, then one must change one's way of reading it, so that what seems broken will be whole."
any man would be a lover
". . . in no death but light's opening of the way . . ."
Narcissus and Whitman notwithstanding, "Man" is not enough. The poet needs more. The poet needs Woman. For whatever reasons European Man claimed North America—riches, power, empire, religious freedom, personal liberty and self-determination—he did not do it alone. For one thing, God travels well; and especially the Christian God. For another, he brought with him his Madonnas, and his eye for local color; and he brought with him his beloved, and his pattern of Ideal—i.e., female—Beauty. In fairness to Monsieur Tocqueville, he does claim the opinion that "Poetry [with a capital P] is the search after, and the delineation of, the Ideal," but he is too concerned with the division between aristocratic and democratic nations to include among his "natural sources of poetry" the object of beauty. Poetry did not settle the wilderness of North America, and nor did it build its plantations and prisons, but in the heart (and whether he knew it or not, in the soul) of every man who held a firearm (and a Bible) and a bill of sale there was the pattern of the beloved, of she whom we seek. Man does not live by bread alone, and so, democratic man; and while liberty can free his mind and body, only Woman, the object of beauty, can satisfy it, and only that woman in whom the White Goddess of Pelion is resident can make of him a poet. Thomas Lowe Taylor—a muse poet, and this epic narrative is proof of that—dedicates these homages so: "for the beloved," for "she whom we seek." (This inscription appears on the copyright page. We're told in a press release—but surely it would have been better to include this information on the back of the book or in a preface—that "the Homages was written between 1974 and 1976, one page at a time, on a daily basis." And, "on the theme of the quest for the beloved ('she whom we seek').") Who is this beloved, this elusive she, if not the Muse herself? Or else, what else can levy Man to willingly surrender his liberty?
In a series of quality-produced and attractive trade books that have been appearing over the last two or so years, and that will I'm sure continue to appear, Taylor has been redressing and making available what is in effect his collected works. These books demonstrate his exceptional resourse, most notably the ease and versatility with which he moves from prose to paragraphical prose-poetry to long-winded lyric to the brief, staccato, minimalist line. Indeed, and most remarkably, and as witnessed here, Taylor works the minimalist line into couplet form (the couplet thought-form, wherein and whereby a compressed complex of interdependent imagery, or, rather, discourse, is found), and we read not so much a succession of words or lines or couplets as a succession of highly wrought, highly saturated exempla.
Who is Eagle, from whose name this title is taken? And why "eagle," the most majestic, most free, most kingly of all birds? A parallel is given early on (Bk I, 12, "Mountain top"): Eagle, the lover and seeker (and what we used to call a philosopher), and like Zarathustra before him, is alone on a mountain top; he is separated from other men and from the world of men. What brought him here? By what crucial experience has he come to this place and won this status? Suddenly an eagle appears, and both Eagle and eagle make contact and enjoy a moment of identification: here is the eagle that is born a king, that is born to ascend, and here is the "Eagle" that must win his lofty status, that must make his ascent, and only by way of crucial experiences. In the course of this narrative, the exposition of this parallel, Eagle / eagle, gives way to the development of a thoroughgoing duality, and it is in and for the exposition of this duality (which is perhaps inexhaustible, and as various) that Taylor weaves the fabric of his narrative (recalling, reliving, suffering again, and willingly).
There is no more crucial experience, no more crucible experience, than the experience of the muse in the throes of romantic love. For the poet, the lesson may be as simple, or as complicated, as not for love, but for art (Bk VI, 269: "learning the / difference"), while for the culture at large—and let us not forget that poetry is a cultural product—the moral is that man is torn between two worlds, a world of freedom and a world of causality. To grasp that freedom is an illusion (unreal, deceptive, misleading) and to accept causality is to live a life that is beyond good and evil. (But who, if not the poet, and that peculiar thing we used to call a philosopher, has the freedom to live this way?)
The principal symbols here are "eagle," of course, and not surprisingly and rather appropriately the color orange, actually "the orange" of sunlight at daybreak. And if we are to appreciate this staccato, or, more accurately, this logoclastic narrative on its own terms, we must accept that these fragments of articulation, these fits and starts of narrative (for instance: "color of light," "Sun's day," "Light's eye," "name's eye," "the sun, & see," "name & eye," "name & face") are in themselves symbols (symbolic of inner sight, of mental but indeed of spiritual enlightenment, of a consciousness and interiority that is itself paralleled in the break in the discourse, a break that is, and quite appropriately, as the break of sunlight in the morning). The eagle, as symbolism, is the symbol of a higher spiritual state, and Eagle, the lover, has achieved—by his quest, by his folly, by his longing, by his nature—a higher or heightened spiritual state. The eagle together with the sun (the "color of light," "Light's eye," "the sun, & see") symbolize the higher perception that comes with mental, or, indeed, spiritual enlightenment. From his mountain top (from his heightened state of consciousness), Eagle recounts his quest for the beloved—an allegory for his spiritual journey. But orange also stands for the mean between the spirit and the libido, between divine love and lust—and libido and lust are to the quest what the spirit and divine love are to the allegory. These parallels, in themselves, symbolize Eagle the man of flesh and spirit, of freedom and of causality, while also symbolizing the tragedy that although he has achieved his singular status it has come at the cost of great injury. To be a martyr in love requires that one both undergo, suffer, win his quest and die in the process. This "death" that is "no death but light's opening of the way" is necessary, for it makes possible the spiritual rebirth by which Eagle is promoted to a higher consciousness, and which enables Eagle to eventually come down from his mountain top and deliver his narrative (and so, to "tell" is to "complete the circle"), and, most importantly, which enables him to love, and quest, again. The Homages of Eagle is thus a classic, even a traditional, narrative; only, in postmodern form, with postmodern sensibilities, and the postmodern consciousness of what has come before.
Poe (as American as Whitman, as self-obsessed as Narcissus and of as alienated a sensibilities as found Monsieur Tocqueville but who could not do without the beloved) said, no poem of any length can be all poetry, but that doesn't mean it can't have sparks of genius, palpable frissons that guide (both poet and reader) and reward (both poet and reader) and spur along the way. Such is the case with these plaintif and joyful, celebratory couplets (couplets!), these paeans in carol of the beloved, in carol of she whom we seek. Thomas Lowe Taylor—retired house painter, but of course—has given us lovers, us lovers and criers, us lovers and seekers and worshipers of the beloved an anthem for our time and for all time, for as lovers we are outside of time. These Homages are testament for every man and woman who has ever known profound romantic love. With Taylor it is more than craft—Taylor is a mystic! The Homages of Eagle is a masterpiece!
the eratio bookshelf is edited by gregory vincent st. thomasino.