At last, we reach the end of the semester. Our brains our fried, and we don’t want to think or write anything anymore. Still, we have finals, papers, and revisions to work on, and inspiration just isn’t flowing as it used to.
Ben Jorisch’s “Death of the Nightingale,” a poem featured in the Obscura’s latest volume, sums up our feelings about writing as the end of our work draws near but cannot come soon enough: “The Muse is gone, she has left me. / My head is wrung / of that juice which I ink my pen.” The rest of the poem illustrates the longing that all writers have to be free of the artistic drive that their craft forces on them. The metaphors enlighten readers on what it might feel like to put down the pen that we are so connected to as writers—like “a child unattended” and “a man without a god.” The speaker of Jorisch’s poem wishes to be free, to have a moment of reprieve when demons, words, and characters aren’t screaming in his head.
The speaker continues to imagine being a “fire” set free amongst the elements of the world and reminds the reader how creativity or drafts will be revisited eventually. The images of smoke and fire, as well as mentions of birth, emphasize the cycle of inspiration, which comes, goes, and tries to hide. “Death of the Nightingale” emanates a nostalgic, aesthetic feel when the words are on the tips of our tongues and fingertips, but we tend to be reluctant to end our work. We want it over and done with, but because we seek precision in the expression of our thoughts, we return for another draft…and another and then another.
The experience of being so close to the end of a poem, story, or painting can be such a relief but also a moment of great tension. Jorisch captures this in-between moment, during which we are almost finished yet nowhere close to the end.
Below is the excerpt from Obscura’s 7th Volume (2016, p. 69). Free copies are available in the English Department (Carmen Hall, rm. 300).
The Death of the Nightingale
I shall no longer write odes to Art.
The Muse is gone, she has left me.
My head is wrung
of that juice which I ink my pen.
Let me ease into the dark once more.
I long for the slow release
that letting go of all artistic pursuit
would grant me.
Like a child unattended
or a man with no god
for so long I lived
like a fire in a forest.
And now, I rise with that smoke born of fire
That melds into the mist,
That births the sunset,
without vicious intent.
That poetic purpose
might one day
revisit the page.