Progress Report – Vikram Seth

My need has frayed with time; you said it would. 

It has; I can walk again across the flood 

Of gold sil popples on the straw-gold hills 

Under a deep Californian sky that expels 

All truant clouds; watch squads of cattle graze 

By the radio-telescope; blue-battered jays 

Flash raucous squaking by my swivelling head 

While squirrels sine-wave past over the dead 

Oak-leaves, and not miss you_although I may 

Admit that near the telescope yesterday 

By a small bushcovered gully I blundered on 

Five golden fox-cubs playing in the sun 

And wished you had been there to see them play; 

But that I only mention by the way.

At Evening – Vikram Seth

Let me now sleep, let me not think, let me 

Not ache with inconsistent tenderness. 

It was untenable delight; we are free– 

Separate, equal–and if loverless, 

Love consumes time which is more dear than love, 

More unreplicable. With everything 

Thus posited, the choice was clear enough 

And daylight ratified our reckoning. 
Now only movement marks the birds from the pines; 

Now it’s dark; the blinded stars appear; 

I am alone, you cannot read these lines 

Who are with me when no one else is here, 

Who are with me and cannot hear my voice 

And take my hand and abrogate the choice.

A Style Of Loving – Vikram Seth

Light now restricts itself 

To the top half of trees; 

The angled sun 

Slants honey-coloured rays 

That lessen to the ground 

As we bike through 

The corridor of Palm Drive 

We two 
Have reached a safety the years 

Can claim to have created: 

Unconsumated, therefore 

Unjaded, unsated. 

Picnic, movie, ice-cream; 

Talk; to clear my head 

Hot buttered rum – coffee for you; 

And so not to bed 
And so we have set the question 

Aside, gently. 

Were we to become lovers 

Where would our best friends be? 

You do not wish, nor I 

To risk again 

This savoured light for noon’s 

High joy or pain.

The Frog And The Nightingale – Vikram Seth

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.

All You Who Sleep Tonight – Vikram Seth

All you who sleep tonight 

Far from the ones you love, 

No hand to left or right 

And emptiness above – 
Know that you aren’t alone 

The whole world shares your tears, 

Some for two nights or one, 

And some for all their years.

The New Moon – Zora Bernice May Cross

What have you got in your knapsack fair, 

White moon, bright moon, pearling the air, 

Spinning your bobbins and fabrics free, 

Fleet moon, sweet moon, in to the sea? 

Turquoise and beryl and rings of gold, 

Clear moon, dear moon, ne’er to be sold? 

Roses and lilies, romance and love, 

Still moon, chill moon, swinging above? 

Slender your feet as a white birds throat, 

High moon, shy moon, drifting your boat 

Into the murk of the world awhile, 

Slim moon, dim moon, adding a smile. 

Tender your eyes as a maiden’s kiss, 

Fine moon, wine moon, no one knows this, 

Under the spell of your witchery, 

Dream moon, cream moon, first he kissed me.