It is a well-known fact that there are probably half a dozen writers that you have been urging your friends to read … with no success. My own personal failure in this regard is with the works of Loren Eiseley. Perhaps as a scientist, he is a little too out of date; but the fact that he is also a poet makes everything I have read by him almost numinous. Here, for example, is a poem called “The Condor”:
The great bird moves its feathers on the air
like fingers playing on an instrument,
the instrument of wind; it climbs and scarcely moves
while steady thermals push
its giant wings still higher till it soars
beyond my sight completely, though it peers
through strange red eyes
upon my face below.
Its kind is dying from the earth; its wings
create a foolish envy among men.
Its shadow knew the mammoth and he passed,
floated above the sabertooth, now gone,
saw the first spearmen on the bison’s track,
banked sharply, went its way alone.
Its eyes are larger than its searching brain;
the creature sees like a satellite,
but exists within
an ice-world now dead. This bird cannot
understand rifles, multiply its eggs,
one hidden on a cliff face all it has.
Its shadow is now passing from the earth
just as the mammoth’s shadow at high noon.
Something has gone with each of them, the sky
is out of balance with the tipping poles.
No huge, tusked beast is marching with the ice,
no aerial shadow tracks the passing years.
Only below the haze grows deeper still,
only the buildings edge up through the murk.
Planes fly, and sometimes crash, but no black wing will write
the end of man, as man’s end should be written
by all the condor wings beneath high heaven.
I have seen Andean condors in Peru at Colca Canyon. They were rising and falling in the thermals hundreds of feet at a time.