Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ : Voted one of the Best Short Poems in the English language

LD: This classic 6-line poem is for many connoisseurs of fine verse an unparalleled gem of beauty. A miniature painting in memorable words, this is one of the best short poem in the English language. Among the Top Ten, it was probably dashed off in a couple of minutes, but polished to perfection over a much longer period.

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This brief extract from the final chapter of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883) is in no way connected with the above poem by Tennyson (1851). I just happen to have reread both pieces this morning by sheer coincidence, in rapid succession, and thought it might serve some “deeper purpose” to put them here in juxtaposition. The archaic language used in the translation is deliberate, for Nietzsche himself had written the original Also Sprach Zarathustra in an archaic German, possibly influenced by Luther’s great (1534) German Bible.

My Eagle

by Friedrich Nietzsche

In the morning after that night, Zarathustra leaped from his couch, girded his loins, and went out from his cave, glowing and strong, as the sun at dawn coming forth from dark mountains.

Thou great star! said he, even as he had said aforetime. Thou deep eye of joy, where were all thy bliss without them for whom thou shinest!

Go to! They sleep yet, these Higher Men, whilst I awake: these are not my true companions! Not for these do I wait here in my mountains.

They sleep yet within my cave; their dream drinketh yet of my drunken songs. The ear that hearkeneth for me, the obeying ear, it is not found in them.

Thus Zarathustra spoke within his heart when the sun rose. Then gazed he questing into the heavens, for he heard above him the sharp cry of his Eagle.

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Well! cried he. My beasts awake, for I awake.

My Eagle awaketh and, as I do, honoureth the sun. With Eagle’s talons he graspeth at the new light. You are my true beasts; you I love.

But I lack yet my true men!

— Excerpt from Thus Spake Zarathustra, ‘The Sign’, translated by A. Tille, 1896

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