Friday, November 11, 2005


It's-still-Friday-on-the-west-coast Poetry Blogging, Self-awareness Edition

Because if we as bloggers can't poke fun at ourselves, we shouldn't be in this "business" in the first place:

The Owl and the Nightingale - translated from Middle English

I was in a valley in springtime;
in a very secluded corner,
I heard an owl and a nightingale
holding a great debate.
Their argument was fierce, passionate, and vehement,
sometimes sotto voce, sometimes loud;
and each of them swelled with rage against the other
and let out all her anger,
and said the very worst she could think of
about the other's character,
and especially they argued vehemently
against each other's song.

The nightingale began the argument
in the corner of a clearing,
and perched on a beautiful branch---
there was plenty of blossom around it---
in an impenetrable thick hedge,
with reeds and green sedge growing through it.
She was all the happier because of the branch,
and sang in many different ways;
the music sounded as if it came
from a harp or a pipe rather
than from a living throat.

Nearby there stood an old stump
where the owl sang her Hours,
and which was all overgrown with ivy;
this was where the owl lived.

The nightingale looked at her,
and scrutinised her and despised her,
and everything about the owl seemed unpleasant to her,
since she is regarded as ugly and dirty.
'You nasty creature!', she said, 'fly away!
The sight of you makes me sick.
Certainly I often have to stop singing
because of your ugly face.
My heart fails me, and so does my speech,
when you thrust yourself on me.
I'd rather spit than sing
about your wretched howling.'

The owl waited until it was evening;
she couldn't hold back any longer,
because she was so angry
that she could hardly breathe,
and finally she spoke:
'How does my song seem to you now?
Do you think that I can't sing
just because I can't twitter?
You often insult me
and say things to upset and embarrass me.
If I held you in my talons---
if only I could!--
and you were off your branch,
you'd sing a very different tune!'

The nightingale answered,
'As long as I keep out of the open,
and protect myself against being exposed,
I'm not bothered about your threats;
as long as I stay put in my hedge,
I don't care at all what you say.
I know that you're ruthless
towards those who can't protect themselves from you,
and that where you can you bully
small birds cruelly and harshly.
That is why all kinds of birds hate you,
and they all drive you away,
and screech and scream around you,
and mob you at close quarters;
and for the same reason even the titmouse
would gladly rip you to pieces.
You're ugly to look at,
and hideous in all sorts of ways;
your body is squat, your neck is scrawny,
your head is bigger than the rest of you put together;
your eyes are black as coal, and as big
as if they were painted with woad.
You glare as if you want to bite to death
everything that you can strike with your talons.
Your beak is hard and sharp,
and curved like a bent hook.
You often make a repeated clacking noise with it,
and that's one of your songs.
But you're making threats against my person,
and would like to crush me with your talons;
a frog would suit you better,
squatting under a mill-wheel;
snails, mice, and other vermin
would be more natural and appropriate for you.
You roost by day and fly by night;
you show that you're an evil creature.
You are loathsome and unclean---
I'm talking about your nest,
and also about your dirty chicks;
you're bringing them up with really filthy habits.
You know very well what they do in their nest:
they foul it up to the chin;
they sit there as if they're blind.
There's a proverb about that:
'Shame on the creature
which fouls its own nest'!
The other year a falcon was breeding;
she didn't guard her nest well.
You crept in there one day,
and laid your filthy egg in it.
When the time came that she hatched the eggs
and the chicks emerged,
she brought her chicks food,
watched over the nest and saw them eat;
she saw that on one side
her nest was fouled on the outer edge.
The falcon was angry with her chicks,
and screamed loudly, and scolded sternly:
'Tell me, who's done this?
It was never your nature to do this kind of thing.
This is a disgusting thing to have happened to you.
Tell me, if you know who did it!'
Then they all said,
'It was actually our brother,
the one over there with the big head---
it's a pity nobody's cut it off!
Throw him out as a reject,
so that he breaks his neck!'
The Falcon believed her chicks,
and seized that dirty chick by the middle,
and threw it off that wild branch,
where magpies and crows tore it to pieces.
There's a fable told about this,
though it's not entirely a fable:
this is what happens to the villain
who's come from a disreputable family
and mixes with respectable people;
he's always letting his origins show,
that he's come from a rotten egg
even if he's turned up in a respectable nest;
even if an apple rolls away from the tree
where it was growing with the others,
although it's some distance from it
it still reflects clearly where it's come from.'

The nightingale replied with these words,
and after that long speech
she sang as loudly and as shrilly
as if a resonant harp were being played.