The Frog and the Nightingale by Vikram Seth, a poem about your own creative voice.

Once upon a time a frog Croaked away in Bingle Bog Every night from dusk to dawn He croaked awn and awn and awn Other creatures loathed his voice, But, alas, they had no choice, And the crass cacophony Blared out from the sumac tree At whose foot the frog each night Minstrelled on till morning night

Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks. Insults or complaints or bricks Stilled the frogs determination To display his heart’s elation. But one night a nightingale In the moonlight cold and pale Perched upon the sumac tree Casting forth her melody Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog And the whole admiring bog Stared towards the sumac, rapt,

And, when she had ended, clapped, Ducks had swum and herons waded To her as she serenaded And a solitary loon Wept, beneath the summer moon. Toads and teals and tiddlers, captured By her voice, cheered on, enraptured: “Bravo! ” “Too divine! ” “Encore! ” So the nightingale once more, Quite unused to such applause, Sang till dawn without a pause.

Next night when the Nightingale Shook her head and twitched her tail, Closed an eye and fluffed a wing And had cleared her throat to sing She was startled by a croak. “Sorry – was that you who spoke? ” She enquired when the frog Hopped towards her from the bog. “Yes,” the frog replied. “You see, I’m the frog who owns this tree In this bog I’ve long been known For my splendid baritone And, of course, I wield my pen For Bog Trumpet now and then”

“Did you… did you like my song? ” “Not too bad – but far too long. The technique was fine of course, But it lacked a certain force”. “Oh! ” the nightingale confessed. Greatly flattered and impressed That a critic of such note Had discussed her art and throat: “I don’t think the song’s divine. But – oh, well – at least it’s mine”.

“That’s not much to boast about”. Said the heartless frog. “Without Proper training such as I – And few others can supply. You’ll remain a mere beginner. But with me you’ll be a winner” “Dearest frog”, the nightingale Breathed: “This is a fairy tale – And you are Mozart in disguise Come to earth before my eyes”.

“Well I charge a modest fee.” “Oh! ” “But it won’t hurt, you’ll see” Now the nightingale inspired, Flushed with confidence, and fired With both art and adoration, Sang – and was a huge sensation. Animals for miles around Flocked towards the magic sound, And the frog with great precision Counted heads and charged admission.

Though next morning it was raining, He began her vocal training. “But I can’t sing in this weather” “Come my dear – we’ll sing together. Just put on your scarf and sash, Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! ” So the frog and nightingale Journeyed up and down the scale For six hours, till she was shivering and her voice was hoarse and quivering.

Though subdued and sleep deprived, In the night her throat revived, And the sumac tree was bowed, With a breathless, titled crowd: Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent, Mallard and Milady Trent, Martin Cardinal Mephisto, And the Coot of Monte Cristo, Ladies with tiaras glittering In the interval sat twittering – And the frog observed them glitter With a joy both sweet and bitter.

Every day the frog who’d sold her Songs for silver tried to scold her: “You must practice even longer Till your voice, like mine grows stronger. In the second song last night You got nervous in mid-flight. And, my dear, lay on more trills: Audiences enjoy such frills. You must make your public happier: Give them something sharper snappier. We must aim for better billings. You still owe me sixty shillings.”

Day by day the nightingale Grew more sorrowful and pale. Night on night her tired song Zipped and trilled and bounced along, Till the birds and beasts grew tired At a voice so uninspired And the ticket office gross Crashed, and she grew more morose – For her ears were now addicted To applause quite unrestricted, And to sing into the night All alone gave no delight.

Now the frog puffed up with rage. “Brainless bird – you’re on the stage – Use your wits and follow fashion. Puff your lungs out with your passion.” Trembling, terrified to fail, Blind with tears, the nightingale Heard him out in silence, tried, Puffed up, burst a vein, and died.

Said the frog: “I tried to teach her, But she was a stupid creature – Far too nervous, far too tense. Far too prone to influence. Well, poor bird – she should have known That your song must be your own. That’s why I sing with panache: “Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash! ” And the foghorn of the frog Blared unrivalled through the bog.