The Eagle and the Mole
medium voice and piano
the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.
The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.
When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.
If in the eagle's track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.
If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.
And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.
pages, circa 4' 00"
text is s sermon, for so it seems to me. In the metaphors of eagle and mole,
we are told that sometimes we must individually soar above and sometimes we
must hide away as a defense against the "herd."
[ 1 ]
Many of the statements are imperatives in terms of grammar. Lets we find the
suggestions odd, we might turn our minds to such words as Henry David
Thoreau's "If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he
hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however
measured, or far away." Or more modern phrases like "thinking outside the
box" come to mind. Or "break the mold" as in, to be different than.
more than being simply different from one's fellows, Wylie observes that
"The huddled warmth of crowds / Begets and fosters hate." As one watches the
anger and riots against so-called austerity in Greece and other European
nations, one finds the promise of the social welfare state supported by
increased borrowing to have been a "huddled warmth" for a time now turning
to resentment and hate. One may similarly observe the earlier history of
Europe in which unification -- under a Napoleon, Kaiser or the National
Socialists and Italian fascists -- is now the political aim of the "modern"
European Commission under whose watchful eye -- irony intended -- whole
nations' unsustainable debt is rending society.
Wylie's text, which I suggest is a sermon most profound, reminds of Charles
Mackay's extraordinary work from 1841 about the madness of crowds. Wylie's
"reeking herd" and "lathered pack" speak of crowds acting in a unified
delusion. This is a historical truth as one can recall the lessons of recent
history, even to the rhetorical yet false constructions such as the United
States' "fiscal cliff," Japan's "lost generation," or the "Arab spring" of
riot-torn Egypt, civil war in Syria or the murderous repression of
Christians today in some African Muslim nations. University of Hawaii
Professor Emeritus Rummel's scholarly work on such a history is apt, and
suggested another "sermon" set to music,
tell, my brother, why. The old joke before the Soviet Socialist USSR
collapsed was a light-hearted view to the same subject and Wylie's advice:
"I am working against the government -- by not working." The actuarial truth
of this speaks volumes, as some American cities now undergo bankruptcy, as
the "green energy" schemes of many nations collapse economically, and as
more examples of what Mackay will tell us -- should we heed it -- the
"madness of crowds" and of what Wylie tells us are the "polluted flock" and
"steaming sheep" which accept such "madness" until they can no longer.
[ 2 ]
is advice for those who would hear, then as for today.
common-tone strategy underpins the gestures for a large part of the musical
materials. E joins E major, C major and A without a third in the opening
gesture, a hint that some things remain constant when the world's "madness"
shifts about us, as the tonal domains shift from phrase to phrase.
rustle of the right hand suggests the flight of wings, and later the flowing
of waters. With the bright cadence at measure 33, what follows is a
lessening and more dissonant pause, after which the "sermon" takes up again
to reflect that not all many "soar" like the eagle. The musical rhetoric is
restated in other tonal domains, still shifting against the common-tone
which binds sense together.
coda to this setting recalls the musical gesture of the eagle's soaring
against the poetic image of "the sun." The imperative verbs reprise, telling
to "turn, go, and live."
The score for
The Eagle and the Mole is available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this
The Eagle and the Mole
[ 1 ] Extraordinary
Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay (1812-1889),
London: Richard Bentley, 1841. With his chapter headings are quotes by
authors and poets of his time, so apt for today that one must stand amazed
at the perceptive acuity of such men. And yet as with so many lessons, when
forgotten or suppressed society must again experience the same madness and
the same folly again and again.
In one quote,
Mackay cites Pope's brilliant observation as apt for today as can be
"At length corruption, like a general flood,
Did deluge all, and avarice creeping on,
Spread, like a low-born mist, and hid the sun.
Statesmen and patriots plied alike the stocks,
Peeress and butler shared alike the box;
And judges jobbed, and bishops bit the town,
And mighty dukes packed cards for half-a-crown:
Britain was sunk in lucre's sordid charms.
"In fact, it will be found in the history of every generation and race of
men, that whenever a choice of belief between the "Wondrously False" and the
"Wondrously True" is given to ignorance or prejudice, that their choice will
be fixed upon the first, for the reason that it is most akin to their own
nature. The great majority of mankind, and even of the wisest among us, are
still in the condition of the sailor's mother--believing and disbelieving on
the same grounds that she did--protesting against the flying fish, but
cherishing the golden wheels. Thousands there are amongst us, who, rather
than pin their faith in the one fish, would believe not only in the wheel of
gold, but the chariot--not only in the chariot, but in the horses and the
And later he
writes, "Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with
contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of the errors into
which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be
un-instructive. As the man looks back to the days of his childhood and his
youth, and recalls to his mind the strange notions and false opinions that
swayed his actions at that time, that he may wonder at them, so should
society, for its edification, look back to the opinions which governed the
ages fled. He is but a superficial thinker who would despise and refuse to
hear of them merely because they are absurd. No man is so wise but that he
may learn some wisdom from his past errors, either of thought or action, and
no society has made such advances as to be capable of no improvement from
the retrospect of its past folly and credulity. And not only is such a study
instructive: he who reads for amusement only, will find no chapter in the
annals of the human mind more amusing than this. It opens out the whole
realm of fiction--the wild, the fantastic, and the wonderful, and all the
immense variety of things "that are not, and cannot be; but that have been
imagined and believed."
importantly, he says to us today, "Men, it has been well said, think in
herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover
their senses slowly, and one by one."
[ 2 ]
The text is found in Wylie's collection, Nets to Catch the Wind, New
York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921. The title of the collection is not
represented in the collection itself as a title of an individual poem. What
sort of net might we imagine be fabricated to "catch the wind?" Gossamer
words catch age-old truths, I suggest.