Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Michael Hamburger: Conversation with a Blackbird



‘Will you please, will you please, will you please’
He begins, and I wait for more
Which comes, indistinct, unemphatic.
‘Keep away’ I think I make out
Or ‘Let things be’
May or may not have heard:
The vowels are blurred,
The consonants missing.
Oh, and the rhythm is free
After that courteous request.

Translated, my answering whistle says:
‘Be more explicit. Our kind can’t endure
Things unsure, songs open-ended.
To be kept guessing is more
Than we can bear for long.’

Does he laugh? ‘Please, please, please, please, please’
Is the reply. Then coloratura, among it these phrases:
‘We repeat, don’t complete.
Mysteries, mysteries.
Improvise, weather-wise.
Now I dip, now I rise.
Vary it. Don’t care a bit
If it’s indefinite.
Now I sit, twitter. Now I flit.’


Published 1994. Hamburger has said this was a genuine attempt to transcribe and translate animal sounds. The last stanza also looks as if the blackbird is offering the poet recipes for poetry.