"A Hooded Eagle Among Blinking Owls"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This poem is a verse letter to Shelley's friend, Maria Gisborne, who is residing at the moment in London; the poet is living in the Gisborne residence in Leghorn. Shelley begins by saying that, like the spider in its web and the silkworm in its cocoon, he sits spinning a cell of rare and subtle thoughts that will, after his death, preserve his memory in the minds of those who love him. He then describes the room in which he is composing his letter: it is crowded with a large number of strange mechanical devices and apparatus for performing experiments in natural philosophy that the poet does not fully comprehend; and there are also books, broken teacups, and all the other odds and ends that accumulate in a man's study. In such a room sits the poet while the elements rage in a thunderstorm outside the house. The poet then falls into reminiscence about the time that Maria and he were together in this region: how they picnicked in the country and how the poet expounded his ideas to Maria. But now Maria is in London, a huge sea that casts up its human wreckage on its shores, but the depths of which contain great treasures, such as William Godwin, the philosopher who did much to shape Shelley's political views and who was, in general, influential in shaping his intellect; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose days of intellectual greatness had passed. Coleridge, he says, is like a captive eagle blindfolded by the falconer's hood and surrounded by a crowd of lesser men who are like a flock of owls. The comparison is between Coleridge, who in his great days, could, like the eagle, stare into the sun of truth, and lesser men, who, like owls, cannot tolerate such bright light.

You will see
That which was Godwin–greater none than he
Though fallen–and fallen on evil times–to stand
Among the spirits of our age and land,
Before the dread tribunal of to come
The foremost,–while Rebuke cowers pale and dumb.
You will see Coleridge–he who sits obscure
In the exceeding lustre and the pure
Intense irradiation of a mind,
Which, with its own internal lightning blind,
Flags wearily through darkness and despair–
A cloud-encircled meteor of the air,
A hooded eagle among blinking owls–
You will see Hunt–one of those happy souls
Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom
This world would smell like what it is–a tomb.