Tabb’s Poetry XVIII

The Dead Thrush

Love of nest and mate and young,
Woke the music of his tongue,
While upon the fledgling’s brain
Soft it fell as scattered grain,
There to blossom tone for tone
Into echoes of his own.

Doth the passion wholly die
When the fountainhead is dry?
Nay: as vapor from the sea
Lives the dream eternally;
Soon the silent clouds again
Melt in rhapsodies of rain.

The Dove

A tuneful mist above a silent sea
O’er which thou broodest, seems thy voice to me;
A moan of widowed memory above
A tideless depth of erst impetuous love.

E’en as the main, thy circling monody
Upon the lone horizon meets the sky,
Where faintly flickers, in the distance far,
The afterglow of hope’s departed star.

Pour forth, sweet bird, thy requiem; and lo!
Night’s dreamy waves of sympathy o’erflow
To soothe thy pain, while thoughts, attuned to thine,
Melt into twilight tenderness divine.


                  With sudden gush
As from a fountain, sings in yonder bush
                  The Hermit Thrush.

                  Did ever Lark
With swifter scintillations fling the spark
                  That fires the dark?

                  Like April rain
Of mist and sunshine mingled, moves the strain
                  O’er hill and plain.

                  As love, O Song,
In flame or torrent sweep through Life along,
                  O’er grief and wrong.


Killdee! Killdee! far o’er the lea
   At twilight comes the cry.
Killdee! a marsh-mate answereth
   Across the shallow sky.

Killdee! Killdee! thrills over me
   A rhapsody of light,
As star to star gives utterance
   Between the day and night.

Killdee! Killdee! O Memory,
   The twin birds, Joy and Pain,
Like shadows parted by the sun,
   At twilight meet again!

In Shadow

   Heeds yonder star thy song,
      O warbler of the night?
“I know not, for the way is long
      That leads unto the light.
But as the music of the spheres,
A twinkling silence here appears,
Perchance my warbling from afar
            Appears a star.”

John B. Tabb

For a recitation, click the play button:

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“The Dead Thrush”: Lyrics, p. 115; Poetry, p. 38. March 1896. A thrush is a songbird belonging to the Thrush family (Turdidae). Both the Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) and the Wood Thush (Hylocichla mustelina), for instance, are native to North America. Rhapsodies are enthusiastic expressions of feeling or one-movement musical compositions of integrated episodes. Father Tabb was a gifted pianist.

“The Dove”: Poetry, p. 45. 1882. Erst means formerly; the main is the sea; a monody is a poem of mourning; a requiem is a hymn for the dead; one American species of dove, Zenaida macroura, is called the Mourning Dove.

“Overflow”: Later Lyrics, p. 97; Poetry, p. 40. 1902. The Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) is a songbird belonging to the Thrush family (Turdidae) and is native to North America. A lark is any of a number of songbirds (family Alaudidae); only one, the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), lives in North America.

“Killdee”: Poems, p. 57; Poetry, p. 34. March 1886. The Killdeer (so called because of the sound of its call) is an American species of plover, Charadrius vociferus. A lea is a meadow. A rhapsody is an enthusiastic expression of feeling or a one-movement musical composition of integrated episodes. Father Tabb was a gifted pianist.

“In Shadow”: Father Tabb, p. 200; Poetry, p. 44. 1923. The warbler of the night may be the Northern Mockingbird, which lives year-round in Virginia, where Father Tabb resided, and habitually sings for long stretches during the night; a more traditional reference, though, would be the Nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos, that summers in England and Europe. The music of the spheres (musica universalis) is an ancient philosophical concept of the harmony of the movement of celestial bodies. Perchance means perhaps, maybe, possibly.

A convert to the Catholic faith, Rev. John Banister Tabb (1845-1909) was a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, and Professor of English at St. Charles’ College, Ellicott City, Maryland. Poems selected, arranged, and annotated by E.L. Core.
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