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The use of eagles, as opposed to another animal or even a different species of bird, is significant. The dalliance as described is powerful. The eagles are courageous—they gyrate through the sky falling downward, almost to the river, before separating to begin an upward flight. As a winged creature the eagle is a symbol of freedom. The act of reproduction in itself is one of immortality, at least in terms of creating progeny and continuing the propagation of the species.


This line contains three phrases in apposition. This qualification of the author’s meditative, restful, quiet activity serves as an effective foil for the frenzied activity of the eagles.


The poem starts with an image of a river road. Rivers and roads are both associated with various journeys, but rivers have the additional connotation of being a source of life. Using an image representative of life is appropriate to the potentially life-giving act of the eagles.


Note the images of the birds’ anatomical parts in lines 4, 5, 8, and 9- claws, wings, beaks, pinions, and talons. Claws, talons, and beaks are potentially violent images. Wings and pinions, “the outer part of a bird’s wing, usually including the flight feathers,” are images of freedom, flight and movement (OED). The focus on these images with very different connotations perhaps suggests that the physical act of sex is a violent liberation. The anatomizing of the birds’ physical bodies effectively communicates that the whole of their bodies are involved in this act while also emphasizing the biological, concrete aspects of sex.


Whitman’s use of anastrophe (inverted word order) can be seen in the phrases “upward again on slow-firming pinions slanting,” and “their separate diverse flight, she hers, he his pursuing” in lines 9 and 10. By placing the verb at the end of these phrases, Whitman creates anticipation and invites the reader to savor the details and become a companion voyeur to the walker.


Whitman’s elevated diction reflects his attitude toward the eagles and their activities and accentuates the grandeur of the birds in the natural act of reproduction. Note the use of “twain” instead of two in this line and “pinion” instead of wing in line 9.


A dalliance is “a leisurely or frivolous passing of time, the act or an instance of light-hearted flirting, a casual love affair” (OED). Whitman’s choice of the word dalliance to describe this incident is telling. Like a dalliance, this poem is intimate but light-hearted. It is the result of a casual observation that is expressed in exalted terminology.


Parallelism is one of the conventions Whitman uses to maintain rhythm in this poem. In line 5 and 6 nouns are consistently modified by verbs- “interlocking claws,” “gyrating wheel,” “beating wings,” “clustering loops,” and “swirling mass tight grappling.” This word structure also establishes equality in the eagles’ actions (clinching claws are as essential and noteworthy as beating wings).


Consonance is used in both the opening and closing lines of the poem to maintain a rhythmic effect. See “river road” and “skyward in air a sudden muffled sound” in lines 1 and 2 and “she hers, he his, pursuing” in line 10. Repetition of initial consonant sounds can also be seen in “clinching interlocking claws” (line 4) and “tumbling, turning” (line 6).


The repeated use of action verbs in the larger framework of the poem emphasizes that it is full of action—it is an act of observing two eagles in the act of mating. Repetition of “ing” sound enhances the sound of the poem when read aloud and echoes the intensity and chaos of the dalliance. Four of the poem’s fifteen action verbs occur in this line: “clinching,” “interlocking,” “living,” and “gyrating.”


The best way to remember your wife’s birthday is to remember it once. – E. Joseph Cossman

1 2

SKIRTING the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)

2 0

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

3 0

The rushing amorous contact high in space together,

4 1

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

5 1

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

6 1

In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,

7 1

Till oer the river poisd, the twain yet one, a moments lull,

8 0

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

9 1

Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,

10 1

She hers, he his, pursuing.