2 Poems by Andrew Taylor

Quest


I


Hovering about London

making frequent excursions


across the channel for long 

walks over the hills of Boulogne 


The Red Lion Inn in Stratford

sadly degenerated from excess of travel 


17th June ‘I think she be gone now, sir, 

May is the time to hear her’


the explanation is to be found in Shakespeare

who says: ‘the cuckoo is in June, heard nor regarded’


White limits the singing of the nightingale until

June 15 but seasons differ it can’t be possible


that any class of feathered songsters

all stop on a given day


II


There is a tradition that when George I died

the nightingales all ceased singing for the year 


out of grief at the sad event but he did not die 

until June 21 that would give a margin of several days


For it seems that the nightingale ceases singing 

the moment her brood is hatched after that event


you hear only a harsh chiding or anxious note 

hence the poets who attribute her melancholy strains 


to sorrow for the loss of her young are entirely at fault

but she probably does nothing of the kind


the song of a bird is not a reminiscence but an anticipation

and expresses happiness or joy only except in those cases 


where the male bird having lost its mate sings for a few days 

as if to call the lost one back 


III


When the male renews his powers of song

after the young brood has been destroyed 


or after it has flown away it is a sign that a new brood 

is contemplated the song is as it were the magic note 


that calls the brood forth the poets therefore

in depicting the bird on such occasions as bewailing 


the lost brood are wide of the mark he is invoking 

and celebrating a new brood


encouraged by hearing that they were not done singing 

yet they had often been heard during haying-time


opportunity to call them out with an imitator 

the opening part of the song is called the challenge 


astonished at the strong piercing quality of the strain

It echoed in the woods and copses about 


IV


The combination did not seem a likely place for nightingales

walking rapidly thitherward there were several warblers


but not Philomel probably missed the bird by just fifteen 

minutes a broad well-kept path that seemed to have 


the same inevitable right of way as a brook foxglove pierced 

the lower foliage and wild growths everywhere with its tall spires 


of purple flowers the wild honeysuckle with a ranker and coarser 

fragrance the situation began to look serious following


one of those inevitable footpaths that cuts diagonally through 

the cemetery behind the old church the ear too critical 


The editor had extended White's date of June 15 to July 1 

as the time to which the nightingale continues in song


It is said they grow hoarse late in the season 

Larks are seen in buntings and a wren's song entrances like Philomel's


V


Startled by a quick brilliant call or whistle a few rods away that at once 

recalled the imitator the long-sought bird was inflating her throat


How It had the quality that startles it pierced the gathering gloom 

like a rocket the hermit thrush just tuning her instrument


Pause near other shrines not a sound the alternative 

is to spend the night under the trees with the nightingales 


and possibly surprise them at their revels in the small hours 

of the morning or catch them at their matins


The prettiest little showers march across the country 

in summer scarcely bigger than a street watering-cart


they keep the haymakers in perpetual flurry

the hay is got together inch by inch every inch is fought for


It is usually nearly worn out with handling 

before they get it into the rick


 VI


In Hitchin on the road between the station and the town 

proper is Nightingale Lane famous for its songsters


It is understandable that this bird might keep people awake 

at night by singing near their houses


there is something in the strain so startling 

and awakening its start is a vivid flash of sound 


Here is the complete artist of whom all these other birds 

are but hints and studies bright startling assured of great 


compass and power it easily dominates all other notes

the harsher chur-r-r-r-rg notes serve as foil to her surpassing brilliancy


We have no bird-voice so piercing and loud with such flexibility 

full-throated harmony and long-drawn cadences 


though we have songs of more melody tenderness 

and plaintiveness


Note: Every word in this poem is drawn from ‘A Hunt for the Nightingale’ in Fresh

Fields by John Burroughs (Cambridge, Mass: The Riverside Press, 1896).

There have been some slight edits. Thanks to John Seed.


Theolonius Monk


We always get the Nightingales we deserve -  Ben Mandelson 


Perhaps it is a desire 

to confound 

human expectation


Rhythmically consistent

long whistles 

         then trills


& clicks shift 

               & divergence


sometimes what we call

music is not the real music


Back in the start house 

an invisible border

east transposes to west


unkempt green space

melodious 

Sending Lady Load


even then out of kilter

a sequence at odds


Situate in soundscape

trees sound 

like rolling waves


Some think the more 

you know

the deeper the experience


Seek the unattainable 

          the absent 


the beautiful puzzle


Acknowledgements to David Rothenberg


_________________


Andrew Taylor is the author of two collections with Shearsman Books, 'Radio Mast Horizon' (2013) and 'March' (2017). His latest publications are 'at first it felt like flying' a collaboration with Charlie Baylis, which is a PBS Summer Selection 2019 and 'The Lowdeine Chronicles', with Nick Power. He lives and works in Nottingham, where he is a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing. www.andrewtaylorpoetry.com