top of page

The Dalliance Of The Eagles by Walt Whitman

Updated: Mar 28

I'm Ashley Howard, a voice coach. This is the first of hopefully many recordings that I'm going to make of poems that I enjoy and different writings that I enjoy; particularly dramatic writings. I'm doing this really for myself. I have no idea whether anyone else will find this interesting or useful in anyway, shape or form, and who knows what will become of it. If you're interested in this stuff and you like what you hear then show me some support and subscribe to my channels make a comment and tell me what you're interested in and I can see if that resonates with me and and possibly indulge you. I've yet to really figure out what I want to do or how I want to do it but I do have a poem that I'd like to share with you and it's a poem by Walt Whitman, an American poet, and the poem is called The Dalliance Of The Eagles.

Skirting the river road, (my four noon walk, my rest)

Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,

The rushing amorous contact high in space together,

The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel

Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling

In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,

Till over the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,

A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,

Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, they're separate diverse flight,

She hers, he his, pursuing.

Something I'm interested in about poetry aside from the imagery and the content and the use of language is its form and structure. For a long time now I've been curious about why why poets write in the way that they write; why do they layout their poems in the way they lay out their poems; why do they make the choices that they make.

I've been teaching practical voice and language and text for a long time to actors and some thoughts that I have which I'd love to share with you is that the punctuation in the poetic form holds more value for some poets than it does for others and that the structure and form of it - the way it's actually laid out - seems to hold more value for some poets than it does others.

Something that I enjoy playing with is ignoring the punctuation and thinking about how the line of the text is revealing something about their underlying feeling or the quality of the image that's being described. So in the first line for example it would be tempting to separate it with those commas and those brackets. But what if we drove that thought to the end of the line? What would be revealed by doing that? If we did, it suggests that in naming the the activity of of skirting the river road that what is wrapped up in that is the business of being on this forenoon walk; that it is a moment of rest in the day for this person; and those two thoughts are joined, they're not separate, they don't act separately, they're joined together.

In the second line, it doesn't take time for the writer or for the person experiencing this to notice what that muffled sound is in the air. It comes with a kind of immediacy. I imagine that if Whitman had wanted us to see those two things as being two separate albeit sequential but separate parts of the story, that he would have just been put over two lines but they are join together like this over one line. So maybe the comma is just a little momentary hesitation in order to suggest the movement between these two parts of the image or the idea. Ultimately they're joined together so that no sooner has the muffled sound been made, the eagles and their dalliance has been recognised.

The next line runs without any punctuation. So it's clear immediately up in the sky what this contact is: it's rushing. And the next part of the thought all joins together with these little skimming stone like commas.

In the next line, if I separate it with all those commas it slows the image down. Whereas I imagine that this moment is very brief; that this thing that goes on in the air that Whitman is imagining happening up above is a very brief thing; it's a very fortunate thing; it's a very coincidental thing. We hear the pace of the image if we join those words all together with these little tears in the line.

It would be tempting with the next line to break it up with the commas, but it's too slow for the image and so perhaps the art of playing the game that I'm playing is about finding the individual descriptions whilst moving the image on. It must be quite something mustn't it to see these birds not flying but attached together in this amorous grip, falling out of the sky, presumably quite fast.

And in the next line we get something of a bit of space. Again it would be tempting to put in all the commas, because we're sort of anticipating that those words at the end. In doing so we end up slowing the whole line down but actually this is sort of a breath taking thing; it's taken this person that's witnessing this out of their moment of rest on their forenoon walk; it's sort of captured their attention and they're held in the grip of this.

And in the next line can you hear that if we hesitate in the middle of that line it gets a little bit indulgent. It sounds too considered. Instead if we run that together then we get this sort of sense that this 'moment's lull' this moment of 'motionless still balance in the air' is just momentary and we're straight into 'the parting the talons losing'. It's an arresting moment that moves quickly.

And in the next line, we don't play the commas, just drive it forward and we're there with them in this moment of separate diverse flight. They've gone on this forenoon walk to have a moments rest and then they're literally arrested by this coincidental moment of these two eagles coming together in rushing amorous contact and before they know it it's over and they've gone on their 'separate diverse flight, she hers, he his, pursuing'.

The last line is the shortest line in the text and so there's in space after it where I imagine that Walt Whitman, if this is indeed him on his forenoon walk, or him imagining this person on there walk, is left speechless: "how did that happen; how fortunate; how lucky am I to have witnessed this!".

As is often the case with these sorts of poems, if indeed Whitman witnessed it or witness something similarly arresting that was unexpected, that it probably took him or a poet like this straight back to their notebook and they had to put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard in order to capture it, because it sits right there in their imagination, in their felt experience.

If you thought this was interesting in some way, shape or form and you fancy hearing more of this stuff, then leave a comment, let me know what you think and indeed if you have any suggestions for poems that you'd like me to have a look at then, put the title, put the name of the poem, put the name of the poet and and I'll see what I can do.

87 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page