Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE SEARCH FOR THE NIGHTINGALE (TO S.S.), by WALTER JAMES REDFERN TURNER

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THE SEARCH FOR THE NIGHTINGALE (TO S.S.), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Beside a stony, shallow stream I sat
Last Line: Leaving bright treasure on this calm air blown.
Subject(s): Birds; Nightingales


BESIDE a stony, shallow stream I sat
In a deep gully underneath a hill.
I watched the water trickle down dark moss
And shake the tiny boughs of maidenhair,
And billow on the bodies of cold stone.
And sculptured clear
Upon the shoulder of that aerial peak
Stood trees, the fragile skeletons of light,
High in a bubble blown
Of visionary stone.


Under that azurine transparent arch
The hill, the rocks, the trees
Were still and dreamless as the printed wood
Black on the snowy page.
It was the song of some diviner bird
Than this still country knew,
The words were twigs of burnt and blackened trees
From which there trilled a voice,
Shadowy and faint, as though it were the song
The water carolled as it flowed along.


Lifting my head, I gazed upon the world,
Carved in the breathless heat as in a gem,
And watched the parroquets green-feathered fly
Through crystal vacancy, and perch in trees
That glittered in a thin, blue, haze-like dream,
And the voice faded, though the water dinned
Against the stones its dimming memory.
And I ached then
To hear that song burst out upon that scene,
Startling an earth where it had never been.


And then I came unto an older world.
The woods were damp, the sun
Shone in a watery mist, and soon was gone;
The trees were thick with leaves, heavy and old,
The sky was grey, and blue, and like the sea
Rolling with mists and shadowy veils of foam.
I heard the roaring of an ancient wind
Among the elms and in the tattered pines;
Lighting pale hollows in the cloud-dark sky,
A ghostly ship, the Moon, flew scudding by.


"O is it here," I cried, "that bird that sings
So that the traveller in his frenzy weeps?"
It was the autumn of the year, and leaves
Fell with a dizzying moan, and all the trees
Roared like the sea at my small impotent voice.
And if that bird was there it did not sing,
And I knew not its haunts, or where it went,
But carven stood and raved!
In that old wood that dripped upon my face
Upturned below, pale in its passionate chase.


And years went by, and I grew slowly cold:
I had forgotten what I once had sought.
There are no passions that do not grow dim,
And like a fire imagination sinks
Into the ashes of the mind's cold grate.
And if I dreamed, I dreamed of that far land,
That coast of pearl upon a summer sea,
Whose frail trees in unruffled amber sleep
Gaudy with jewelled birds, whose feathers spray
Bright founts of colour through the tranquil day.


The hill, the gully, and the stony stream
I had not thought on when this spring I sat
In a strange room with candles guttering down
Into the flickering silence. From the Moon
Among the trees still-wreathed upon the sky
There came the sudden twittering of a ghost.
And I stept out from darkness, and I saw
The great pale sky immense, transparent, filled
With boughs and mountains and wide-shining lakes
Where stillness, crying in a thin voice, breaks.


It was the voice of that imagined bird.
I saw the gully and that ancient hill,
The water trickling down from Paradise
Shaking the tiny boughs of maidenhair.
There sat the dreaming boy.
And O! I wept to see that scene again,
To read the black print on that snowy page,
I wept, and all was still.
No shadow came into that sun-steeped glen,
No sound of earth, no voice of living men.


Was it a dream or was it that in me
A God awoke and gazing on his dream
Saw that dream rise and gaze into its soul,
Finding, Narcissus-like, its image there:
A Song, a transitory Shape on water blown,
Descending down the bright cascades of time,
The shadowiest-flowering, ripple-woven bloom
As ghostly as still waters' unseen foam
That lies upon the air, as that song lay
Within my heart on one far summer day?


Carved in the azure air white peacocks fly,
Their fanning wings stir not the crystal trees,
Bright parrots fade through dimming turquoise days,
And music scrolls its lightning calm and bright
On the pale sky where thunder cannot come.
Into that world no ship has ever sailed,
No seaman gazing with hand-shaded eyes
Has ever seen its shore whiten the waves.
But to that land the Nightingale has flown,
Leaving bright treasure on this calm air blown.

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