Tiger-Lily was supposed to be revising for some English exams after the
Easter break. She had been so taken with her school trip to China, however,
that she sat in her room, reminiscing and doodling on her writing pad
before committing some verse to her tablet.
She had always loved Hans Christian Andersen’s story about the Emperor
and the Nightingale and it had left such a lasting impression on her, so that
she had jumped at the chance to visit Beijing and Chengde with her school
and had paid the deposit and had her injections almost before anyone else
in her class could register an interest.
Of course Hans Christian Andersen himself had had to make do with the
chinoiserie of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. His infatuation with a
nightingale was an expression of his attachment to Swedish soprano, Jenny
Lind. He had been possessed of a fine soprano voice himself, when he was a
boy and had been termed The Nightingale of Odense.
The Emperor had preferred a mechanical, bejewelled bird to the real creature,
until the toy broke down through overuse and the real bird came to sing for him
when he was ill.
Tiger was not au fait with the biographical details behind the story, nor was
she appraised of its suggestions of sexually arrested development. No, she
just felt the yearning and, being a bright adolescent, she tuned into the
Her poem captured a little epiphany that she had experienced in a park in
Beijing and I am glad that I persuaded her to let me publish it for you to
consider, as I think her work deserves a platform, other than being relegated
to a piece of GCSE coursework.
Just wait till she studies Keats!
To A Nightingale
My heart aches at your sad captivity,
trilling bird, lanterned in the barren boughs
of bleak Beijing park, while Longevity
and ancient friends play mah jong. You arouse
pity. I know they once emptied the skies,
leaving a silenced world. Now you may sing,
rara avis, with clipped wings- exercise
in infinite patience. Once Ching and Ming
emperors tasted your tongues-feuilletees-
and some preferred the clockwork lifelessness
of a gilded toy. Your rich song allays
grim reality’s round of weariness;
transports old men, ex-army dressed,
T’ai chi practitioners; seekers of calm.
Do creatures sing best with thorns in their breasts?
Or are such notions mere Romantic sham?