The Blue Jay
His eye is bright as burnished steel,
His note a quick defiant cry;
Harsh as a hinge his grating squeal
Sounds from the keen wind sweeping by.
Rain never dims his smooth blue coat,
The winter never troubles him.
No fog puts hoarseness in his throat
Or makes his merry eyes grow dim.
His cry at morning is a shout.—
His wing is subject to his heart.
Of fear he knows not—doubt
Did not draw his sailing-chart.
He is an universal emigre;
His foot is set in every land.
He greets me by gray Casco bay,
And laughs across the Texas sand.
In heat or cold, in storm or sun
He lives unfearingly, and when he dies
He folds his feet up one by one
And turns his last look at the skies.
He is the true American! He fears
No journey and no wood or wall
And in the desert, toiling voyagers
Take heart of courage from his call.
It's hard to admit that one of the first well-known "Midwest" writers could write such doggerel. Raised in part on Iowa and South Dakota farms, Garland happily (for all concerned) found prose fiction and non-fiction to be more his forte. The metaphor "doubt / Did not draw his sailing-chart" is fairly original, and maybe the highlight of the poem. But our bird eventually (and too blithely) becomes one of "us," a "true American"—that is, a bold and fearless traveler-hero. In fact, he seems more a prototypical cowboy than a bird; and when he dies in the penultimate stanza—folding "his feet up one by one" and turning "his last look at the skies," this modern reader envisions a cartoon cowboy in a Western farce. And thinks that this adventurous avian died two stanzas too late.