The Night Singing


Long after Ovid’s story of Philomela
has gone out of fashion and after the testimonials
of Hafiz and Keats have been smothered in comment
and droned dead in schools and after Eliot has gone home
from the Sacred Heart and Ransom has spat and consigned
to human youth what he reduced to fairy numbers
after the name has become slightly embarrassing
and dried skins have yielded their details and tapes have been
slowed and analyzed and there is nothing at all
for me to say one nightingale is singing
nearby in the oaks where I can see nothing but darkness
and can only listen and ride out on the long note’s
invisible beam that wells up and bursts from its
unknown star on on on never returning
never the same never caught while through the small leaves
of May the starlight glitters from its own journeys
once in the ancestry of this song my mother visited here
lightning struck the locomotive in the mountains
it had never happened before and there were so many
things to tell that she had just seen and would never
have imagined now a field away I hear another
voice beginning and on the slope there is a third
not echoing but varying after the lives
after the goodbyes after the faces and the light
after the recognitions and the touching and tears
those voices go on rising if I knew I would hear
in the last dark that singing I know how I would listen

W. S. Merwin, "Night Singing" from The Vixen. Copyright 1996 by W. S. Merwin, used with permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.

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