Week 32: Birkett’s Eagle, by Dorothy S. Howard

Birkett’s Eagle

Adam Birkett took his gun
And climbed from Wasdale Head;
He swore he could spare no more lambs
To keep an eagle fed.

So Birkett went along the Trod
That climbs by Gavel Neese
Till on his right stood Gavel Crag
And leftward fell the screes.

The mist whirled up from Ennerdale
And Gavel Crag grew dim,
And from the rocks on Birkett’s right
The eagle spoke to him.

‘What ails you, Adam Birkett,
That you have climbed so far
To make an end of Lucifer
That was the Morning Star?

If there’s a heaven, Birkett,
There’s certainly a hell;
And he who would kill Lucifer
Destroys himself as well.’

The mist whirled off from Gavel Crag,
And swept towards Beck Head,
And Adam Birkett took his aim
And shot the eagle dead.

He looked down into Ennerdale
To where its body fell
And at his back stood Gavel Crag,
And at his feet lay Hell.

Birkett scrambled off the rocks,
And back onto the Trod,
And on his right lay Ennerdale,
And on his left stood God.

‘What was it, Adam Birkett,
That fell onto the scree?
For I feared it might be Lucifer
That once was dear to me.

‘And from Carlisle to Ravenglass,
From Shap to St Bees Head,
There’s nobody worth vanquishing
If Lucifer is dead.’

Birkett’s dogs leapt all about
As he came off the fell,
But he said ‘I have killed Lucifer
And I am dead as well.’

But Lucifer the Morning Star
Walked thoughtfully away
From the screes beyond the Gavel
Where the eagle’s body lay.

And as he went by Black Sail Pass
And round below Kirk Fell,
He looked like young Tom Ritson
Who knew the Birketts well.

And he came down to Wasdale Head,
Young Ritson to the life,
With an apple in his pocket
Which he gave to Birkett’s wife.

Dorothy S. Howard

I have been quite unable to find out anything about Dorothy S. Howard nor whether she wrote anything else, but if this enigmatic ballad is a one-off it strikes me as remarkably accomplished. The place-names belong to the English Lake District.

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