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