Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
19 January 2017

Pepys and a nightingale

A new poem by Janet Sutherland.

By Janet Sutherland

Pepys wrapped a rag around his little left toe,
it being new sore, and set out walking,
coming by chance upon his nightingale,
which called me back to mine. I saw the past,
to the rear of the farmhouse there were yews,
rifle green and murderous to cattle,
and, once, my father heard a nightingale
so out I went to wait on soft dead ground.
It’s plain, he said, plain brown, just listen and
under a hundredweight of feathered branches,
that crushed the air to a tense silence,
a nightingale sang, out of full darkness.
His heart, as all hearts are, disguised;
a secretive bird in an impenetrable thicket.


Janet Sutherland is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Bone Monkey (Shearsman Books).

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them
Accelerating the take-up of electric vehicles

This article appears in the 11 Jan 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge