Monday, September 20, 2010



To my knowledge
    I have never heard
        a nightingale

As a boy
    on the Okuti farm
        moreporks mourned nightly

Last night
    in the darkened city
        an unexpected tui sang

clear & loud in moonlight.
     Keats keep your nightingale 
        amidst the alien corn

for I’ve heard a tui
    toll midnight
        in the hills of home.

Harvey McQueen

I was surprised last summer to hear a tui singing in the middle of the night. Admittedly it was full moon. Research on the net the following day told me that this was not unusual. Indeed early Pakeha scientist Buller rhapsodises about hearing one.

At the time I was reading Keats. He’s a poet to whom I keep returning. His ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is one of my lodestars.  .As my poem says I’ve never to my knowledge heard a nightingale; despite stays in Iran, France and Britain and sitting outside in these countries on balmy evening nights.

When this poem was published in Broadsheet 5 I had an indignant letter from a lady living in Wadestown, Wellington. She’s spent most of er life in England. How dare I compare a tui’s song to a nightingale singing. All I can plead is ignorance, and my sheer delight of my own experience hearing such lucid and sweet sound in a quiet night.


  1. I can never bring myself to think that a magpie's song is beautiful, but Australians tell me that they love it. Perhaps it's much the same phenomenon: the songs of home are the sweetest.

  2. We love this poem, "it's cute" says the daughter. It's always nice to see the unexpected immortalised, especially a little slice of home.

  3. Lovely poem; thank you for posting it. I have tuis living in my garden all year round, and I treasure them. But we also have mynahs, and often I have to look out of the window to see who is making the noise - the tuis mimic the mynahs. I am happier when they sing in their own voices.

    This poem made me think of Denis Glover's Home Thoughts:
    'I do not dream of Sussex downs
    or quaint old England's
    quaint old towns
    I think of what may yet be seen
    in Johnsonville or Geraldine.'