‘The Nightingale’s Song’

MU = Character for Nothingness, Emptiness, Tao Non-ness

 This poem is a continuation in the ‘Lord/Lady Nyo’ poems.  The characters seem to have more to say.

 ‘Ome’ is literally a ‘blue-apricot’ , but we would call it a plum.  ‘Kami’ is a demon, or spirit.

I know of two birds, hototogisu and uguisu, both song birds, not ‘real’ nightingales.  The first, hototogisu, was called by Europeans a nightingale. The second one, uguisu, is called “poem-reading-bird”.

On the character displayed:  our concepts of emptiness, void  are not necessarily ‘bad’ to the Japanese: they see this emptiness as a positive thing.  A chance to make room, to return to a better nature, to throw off the forms of this world.

“Be nothing, become everything”.

The Nightingale’s Song

Lord Nyo was known

For three things:




He was attempting a fourth:


It wasn’t going well.

Leaving orders not to be disturbed

(He would have only tea and rice)

The servants thought their master possessed–

Possessed by a demon!

Possessed by an uncaring kami.

Sake was the life-blood of master.

What was next?

Would he throw aside his two swords

And take the tonsure– become a monk?

By the pale light of a moon

Too thin to fatten the road,

Lord Nyo applied himself

To brush and paper

His face a terrible scowl,

His tongue gripped between his teeth,

The air peppered with grunts and soft curses.

The bullfrogs outside called to him.

He remembered this same effort

Decades ago when his Priest-tutor

Attempted to refine his calligraphy

When all he wanted was a sharp stick

To gig frogs.  Ah!

Through the night

Lady Nyo and her old nurse

Watched from across the hall,

Watched the candle flare up and die

As Lord Nyo burned each poem,

Knowing his words inelegant

Sensing his mind too dull to enflame

The love, forgiveness, passion of his wife.

Towards dawn the cry of uguisu

Pierced the dark,

Singing against the light

Of that watery moon-

The ‘poem-reading-bird’!

In a blossoming ome

Outside his window.

Her song went deep,

Rendering him helpless,

Stilling his whirling head,

Refreshing his heart.

It was such a simple thing.

Being of the world

He missed what was important.

Nature, in the form of a simple bird,

In the form of a tone-poem,

Was offering an answer:

A path to redemption

If only he would listen.

Lord Nyo picked up his brush,

Stroked it across the stone

Into the puddle of watery ink,

And with his wrist bent properly,

Wrote this character:

 MU = Character for Nothingness, Emptiness, Tao Non-ness


(Emptiness, a void, forgetting the forms of the material world.)



It was a start.

It was what the little bird sang:

Of emptiness, the void,

The return to his nature, to Nature,

That  finer nature,

Before the grizzled warrior–

The void where hope was possible,

Where his life could begin again.

He slept that night

Listening to the frogs of his childhood

And the nightingale in the plum,

Both bathed in watery moonlight.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011

The character displayed above was painted by a young Japanese monk in 1986. The website of

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/calligraphy1.shtml graciously supplied the illustration.

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33 Responses to “‘The Nightingale’s Song’”

  1. Margie Says:

    It’s late, so my remark will be brief – I am starting to fall in love with Lord Nyo!


  2. ladynyo Says:


    He’s one of those bad boys who is obviously redeemable. Maybe.

    Thank you, Margie, for reading this poem and your comment.




  3. Richard Cody Says:

    Beautifully written.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you Richard, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  5. Mama Zen Says:

    This is exquisite.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Mama Zen!

    So good to hear from you. I am so glad you like this poem, and hopefully there will be a few others to continue this (now) series.

    Thank you for reading “The Nightingale’s Song” and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  7. Kurt Says:

    analogous your things respecting it ‘The Nightingale’s Song’ « Mistress Nyo’s


  8. Nick Says:

    I’m not much good at critiquing poetry anymore so all I can say is that I enjoyed this piece and its picturesque imagery and story. The idea of the “poem-reading bird” was intriguing and delightful! Also interesting was the Japanese concept of the “void” which strikes me as beig akin to the Big Bang, i.e. the creation of something new out of “nothingness”. A lovely piece, Jane 🙂


  9. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Nick!~~

    For those who don’t know Nick, he’s a long standing friend from another site. Nick is a superb writer and poet, who is taking a long sabbatical right now from writing: wish he would get back to it! I miss his cutting-edge work.

    Thanks, Nick. I’m letting the story develop and just going with the flow. As you know, these things aren’t easy, but they are fun. Trying to ground this story in the Japanese details of their culture is a challenge, but illuminating for this writer. I also am trying to cut out words: we can be so mouthy in our descriptions, etc.

    I mention both birds, because I’m not really sure which bird was warbling in the ome tree. LOL!

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Nick. We’ll talk soon.



  10. brian miller Says:

    this is a lovely piece…i can feel for the lord in his desire but being unable to still himself for the poetry to come forth…we miss much in nature…and in muse…emptiness itself a full poem to fill volumes of one lone character….


  11. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Brian,
    thank you for reading this poem.

    He is coming up against his nature: he’s a warrior, a samurai, and has forgotten the earlier lessons. Perhaps.

    Thank you, Brian.



  12. Steve E Says:

    Love your poem, and the comments…story telling at its finest–when even the author does not know FOR CERTAIN exactly what happened in the mind of her ‘poet’.

    Your poetry does take on a mind of its own, once you shove it out there. Like a good book.

    I’m glad to read you, and to ‘know’ you Lady NYO!


  13. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Steve E!

    Are you home or talking to us from the road?

    So glad you like this poem. And yes, I have little clue what is going on with Lord Nyo’s noggin. LOL!

    I think this has more leg than I realized when I started these poems. There has to be an answering poem by Lady Nyo now, right? I will sit patiently until it comes…twittling my thumbs.

    Thank you, Steve for reading and your kind comment on this poem.

    And I am so glad to have you as a friend.

    Lady Nyo


  14. Heaven Says:

    This is a lovely reflection.. I can relate to that wanting to write.. anything until a flash of inspiration comes.

    I like that nature reminds us of the simple truth…thanks for sharing this ~


  15. colleen Says:

    I was taken by the story and saw it unfolding.

    A nightingale and plum seem to go together in some dark way.


  16. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Colleen,

    I don’t know, about the nightingale and the plum, but it could have some dark meaning….

    I know that purple, plums and lavenders were desired colors in the Heian court, but then again, they are beautiful hues.

    Thanks for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  17. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Heaven,

    Thank you for reading and your insightful comment. It’s been a very long day.

    Lady Nyo


  18. hedgewitch Says:

    Just love this one, Jane. You are giving him, and through him our own flawed selves, humanity and the chance to change, grow, redeem the past–very subtly done, understated and all the more lovely for it, like the the possibilities of the void, the paper before writing begins. A beautiful poem, one of my very favorites in a favorite series.


  19. marousia Says:

    Oh I love the final stanza — so many possibilities left wide open


  20. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Marousia…

    I’m slowly warming to this series, and will make the rounds of blogs tomorrow.

    Yes, I think you are right….it’s open ended, neh?

    Thank you for reading and your comment.



  21. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Hedgewitch…

    I’m warming to these characters….and it’s interesting to ‘write’ from a masculine perspective. I don’t think with this man it will be a straight line straight to redemption…lol! for some reason…..

    Thank you, Joy, for reading and your lovely and insightful comment. Readers give a perspective that is deeper than the original idea many times.



  22. John Says:

    Oh Jane I am falling in love with the Nyo’s! His powerful efforts and resulting frustration calmed by the poem singing birds – uguisu – I need one of those some days! I was thinking he could channel his thoughts and simply write about that great passion of desire he has to complete a poem, but as I got down to the culmination where I discovered that what he did was much more appropriate, allowing emptiness to come over him so that he could be filled with the right passion……. “(Emptiness, a void, forgetting the forms of the material world.)” This is really awesome Jane, my only thing is that I would have ended the poem after that incredibly powerful line……. Like George Costanza, the little bald fellow on the comedy series of “Seinfeld” once said, “Always leave on a high note.” 🙂 Wonderful poem again………


  23. claudia Says:

    i love how you tell stories and paint characters in your poems jane…you weave such fine strings and let us see deep into the hearts of your characters…much enjoyed this… and thanks so much for your comment – think that’s the loveliest comment i ever got…smiles…thank you..


  24. ladynyo Says:

    You deserve that and MORE! You are a superb poet and I always feel that I have learned something deep and complex (though I generally don’t know EXACTLY what it is ….LOL!) when I read your poetry. You have such freedom of expression, imagery, and I feel energetic when I have left your weekly poem. You don’t color within the lines…..

    As to this new poem? I’m generally shooting in the dark here, Claudia….allowing these characters to be as mouthy and directive as they are. I have to rely and trust them, because they are so different than we are, and perhaps that is a secret about writing? Trust?

    Thank you so much, Claudia, for reading and your lovely and supportive comments.



  25. Gay Reiser Cannon Says:

    This is so gorgeous..so very gorgeous. The calligraphy grabbed my heart and soul. It took my breath away. I want to be a magpie and steal it. I want to take wing and sit next to the nightingale as it sings poetry to my soul. I want to be quiet and learn breathing here. You are a master of this world, and it flows like the art it is, in one silken movement. Ineffable, exquisite!


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Gay, Please!! I am no master of any world, especially this one. LOL!

    Being competent in anything requires a lot of work and energy, and I am too much that magpie: stealing bright, shiny stuff of culture to swallow.

    But thank you! I appreciate the praise, though it will take the rest of my life to get closer to these things.

    I didn’t know how far I could could push these poems, but actually, sometimes, just sometimes, these things aren’t left up to the poet. I am hoping that this series has a respectable stopping point, and doesn’t just peter out.

    Thank you, Gay, for reading and your absolutely wonderful!! comment. You don’t know how much you make me blush.

    Lady Nyo


  27. ladynyo Says:

    Hi John, Thank you for reading this poem and your very thoughtful comment. I will take another look at this poem and see if what you suggest fits. I think you are probably right. It could do without the last stanza, though I wrote it for a reason.

    I am falling in love with them, too….but they can be problematic as characters! LOL!

    Next week???? will come “Lady Nyo’s Torment”.

    Thank you, John.



  28. rmp Says:

    a beautiful and entrancing tale. i quite enjoyed being swept into the world of the Nyo’s and watching Lord Nyo’s struggle with this task. i like how the sevents looked at him, “Possessed by a demon! / Possessed by an uncaring kami. / Sake was the life-blood of master.” and how Lady Nyo looked on as “the candle flare up and die / As Lord Nyo burned each poem.” and of course how he found inspiration in ’emptyness’, “The void where hope was possible, / Where his life could begin again.”


  29. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you so much, RMP.

    I am enjoying writing this, but I don’t know how long I can take it. I have another piece, continuing this in Lady Nyo’s voice, and then I guess I will just have to wait until it blooms…

    Thank you for reading and your comment, RMP.

    Lady Nyo


  30. manicddaily Says:

    So so lovely. Fun too.


  31. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you! That poem was a hard one for me, but in the end, I think it is one of my favorites.

    Thank you for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  32. Shaista Says:

    New to your site, in love already 🙂 This piece is beautifully woven and very amusing and tender in its journey across the hours of night. It was as visual as the calligraphy and very speaking.

    Lady Nyo ought to be careful now. A husband who can hear the poem speaking bird will become very perceptive indeed!

    Have you ever read Whitney Otto’s ‘A Collection of Beauties At The Height of Their Popularity’? Google it, I think you will love it.


  33. ladynyo Says:

    Note: 6-6-13: Just ordered the book! LOL!Hello Shaista, and Welcome!

    It is rare that a reader gives a nod to the humor in my writings…and I really appreciate it!
    I think you are right about Lady Nyo: she is a bit confused right now….the previous letters from an unknown admirer has scrambled her brains, and she’s about to get even more confused. LOL!

    I will look into this book you mention…sounds very interesting.

    Thank you so much for reading and your delightful comment…and welcome~!

    Lady Nyo


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