In Shadow Of Death, In Haunt Of Song


thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

On May 19th, 1942, a BBC crew were recording the songs of nightingales when a flight of one hundred and ninety-seven Allied bombers flew overhead on their way to Mannheim. The broadcast was abandoned, but the recording was continued.

The result is a haunting recording of the immortal song of the nightingale juxtaposed against the pending mortality of many hundreds of people. Ode to a Nightingale has forever linked the nightingale song with death in my mind, and this recording just seems too poetic to have really happened. The nightingale cares nothing for bombers and human death. It sings on. The planes drone on and eventually, they fade. Like any mortal life, they appear in the word, they pass through, and they dwindle, and they are gone. And the nightingale sings.

I think part of what makes this recording especially haunting is that it is only a sound recording. If it were film, it wouldn’t be as resonant. It becomes possible to imagine whatever quiet wood or dark forest you want to imagine for the nightingales’ haunt. It becomes possible to imagine the near two hundred bombers blotting the sun, one by one, flickering.

Nightingales and Bombers

About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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