A grassy knoll awoke on the forest floor,
On whose soft form the sun each day would rise
And fall again with the ebbing light of day —
Quite like the dreamy games our children play
With yarns of sunny wonders. One small tree
Stood bluntly on the very crest of noon
And cast its shadows on daisies which bloom
All year round; I was there in twilit hours
Of twilit days, when all through the town, it rained.
It rained that day like it had never rained.
The skies fell apart in thunderous blaze and spark
And I was there when Fate concealed the stars —
There, where the nightingale first met the lark;
I watched the knoll, the tree, in twilit hours.
Tuk, tuk, tuk — coughed the wooden doors a knock.
Tuk, tuk, tuk — whispered chairs on the hardwood floor.
The nightingale arose. ‘Some visitor,’
He muttered, ‘Tapping at my chamber door!’
Then stealing a smile, then waiting a while
For effect, he made it gently across
To where the door lay shivering in the cold.
He opened it wide, and marvelled — struck by the sight
Of a beast of kin the prophecy foretold.
’By Lord! You braved the rains to reach this tree.
The tempest,’ claimed he, ‘tossed you here ashore.
O Raven! what do you so claim of me?’
The form didn’t speak, her wet beaks parched for want
Of words to end this ordeal. ‘Raven?’ asked she
At great a length, ‘I am but a simple lark
And seek a shelter from the stubborn storm.’
‘A lark!’ condemned the nightingale, incensed.
‘A simple one at that,’ he fumed and spat.
Then seeing how it rained, the nightingale regained
His composure. ‘Oh, come in,’ said he then
At great a length, ‘Though you may simple be
There’s still a place in my wooden home for thee.
In lives we live, we do quite often face
A distance, that in two stark steps apace
May yet be covered by a nightingale
Who does a raven desire, a lark entail.’
‘Quite well you speak,’ admired the weary lark
In weary notes that her throat engaged. ‘Dear friend,
Who might you be, when you do not aid me?’
The nightingale half-smiled — amused, beguiled,
‘Upon this grassy knoll I built my home
All day to serenade to passer-folk,
And all my verses have been greatly known
To horizons you see from this white oak.
Each day I raise the sun with my soft tune;
Each day I set it down at twilight-time
When ’tis the hour of the impatient moon.
What do I do, save aiding you?’, asked he
And stopped for a practised breath, a practised pause
For effect — then spoke ‘gain, loud, plain — ‘I rhyme.’
The poem complete; the lark did now believe.
‘Teach me,’ she said, ‘for I can’t sing the song
My heart still aches to wreathe; tempestuous grief
Has robbed my words too — Nightingale, bestow,
Bequeath your rare concord into my veins
Till not before you a simple lark remains,
But a nightingale of glorious descent
Inseparable from your sublime visage.
This entire world I’ll let go, not bewail
If only did this lark turn nightingale!’
The lark did plead, the nightingale agreed.
Then morning came and days rolled o’er the knoll.
The nightingale and the lark each nightfall
Would sit and serenade to the passer-folk,
Who sought repose under the blunt white oak.
In ancient days, the emperor and the clown,
And teary Ruth amid the alien corn,
In cheerless afternoons would hear him sing.
Were they to break open their sweet confines —
A poet’s work from whence emerge their calls —
Beside their immortal nightingale they’d see
A flourishing lark on the white oak tree.
The story ends one day, one morning fair:
The lark — as up she wings the spiral stair
One stormless, bright, unnoticed day — too light
To shake our hearts in agony; she departs
One day, in not the twilit hours we doubt
Of faithlessness; it was a bright, cold day
Befitting winter. I was there that noon
When, in the shadows, speckled daisies bloomed.
And all was still atop the grassy knoll,
Except the stir that the absent nightingale
Made not when, far away, the lark escaped.
Oh! I was there, where she dropped her silver chains,
And left, with a nightingale inside her veins.
A silent tree, a grassy knoll:
How life, and time, does claim us all!
Not many had passed through his chamber door
In years before the storm — the weary lark
On that solitary tree, had set him free;
But this can wait. Their trivial tale begins
Not when they meet, not when the nightingale
Forsakes his raven — it’s between the storm
And morning fair, this story takes it form.
Follow me then, for I was there before:
I was the nightingale behind that door.
She came to me, up over a twilit bough
‘Oh! Nightingale,’ she sighed, despaired and tired.
‘Is this, is this the song you vowed to teach
That mocks me, flirts my tongue just out of reach?
Is this that tune, is this that soulful verse
That had led many star-crossed lovers once
On mortal quests to seek their ends, that lends
A direction to people lost at night
Under the deceptive moonlight, and bends
Even Time to its pace? Am I a disgrace?
Nightingale, reply, answer what I ask:
If this is how we make the syllables rhyme
Why do I not like The Nightingale shine?
The poets who frequent this grassy knoll,
And rest upon the numerous daisies fair
In wilful bouts of imagination —
Someday with a pensive feather bright, they write
Furiously till that enchanted night
Which we hold in our voices, so enthralled
That till horizons much beyond our flight
The moonbeams carry our music to them all —
Why do they not befame a common lark?
In Joy, in love, in melancholy thereof
It is the nightingale admired above
The sour, insipid, tuneless, common lark.
What drives your words into their hearts, explain,
Defend your blessed fame, and argue your claim
To dreams of men. O nightingale! so dark —
So dark my life has been before this tree,
Can I a nightingale so hope to be?’
‘What tune,’ the nightingale said, ‘What great verse
Do you desire? The frigid wind o’erhears
Your song to no rational end. O lark —
The light of day, each man’s eternal mark
Of wishful hope! I can’t a lark render
A nightingale of unparalleled splendour.
I cannot turn the glare of a mighty day
Into a common night, and into the way
Of wanton sight of lonely man and beast.
The ravings of the forest air, appear
From recesses of unpeopled East —
Unpeopled to people so alive and fair,
No one would know their lonely hearts. Away,
Away from such despair you must try to soar.
For solitude does not as feed the day
Of light, as the blacker, darker night before.
Allow me to stain the stars with blots of pain
Born of severance. Do not do the same.
Break, O lark, from solitude and its wake,
Which a common lark a nightingale make.
Fly, oh fly, and skim the sunbeam’s arc;
Whoever has heard of a lonely lark?’
‘For sure,’ she smirked, ‘For sure I’ll leave your den
And make some room for the lonely raven.
Tell me, answer my query outright:
Will you ignite again a bird to write?’
‘Yes,’ the Nightingale solemnly swore;
Just a yes and nothing more.
This is how they end; all tales pretend
To set aloft a bird in skies all blue
And gay. The sunny yarns of sunlit day
Our children play with are no wonders, then,
Of nature living in its boldest role,
But rather must unfold, as stories do:
In glorious dreams, of white oak leaves drifting,
Falling from a silver sky; lifting,
Lighting spirits till all world goes by
In lonely nights, that scarcely ever pains
Until tomorrow’s light leaves silver chains.
Fly, my lark! Though you embrace the dark
In your weary, beating heart, and depart
In grief and pride — a nightingale you hide
Too deep — you shall remain a nightingale
For just as long till in some tempestuous gale
A raven arrives through the storm’s uproar,
Gently tapping at your chamber door.
For then you shall open the door to find
A fairer self you had left long behind.
Let the bird in, let the bird in, O Lark
For it is she who shall then drive out the dark.
The nightingale you hoped you’d one day be,
Can only by a lark be set free.