Quills and Feathers

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.

Jay, Blue

Cyanocitta cristata

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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.

Bibliographical information

Author: Garland, Hamlin (1860-1940)

Book: Prairie Songs: Being Chants Rhymed and Unrhymed of the Level Lands of the Great West

Date: 1893

Publisher: Stone & Kimball

Project Information

Genre: Poetry