Night birds

Reading Red Pine’s Poems of the Masters: China’s Classic Anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty Verse, I come to a line by Hsieh Fang-te that runs: “Until the fourth watch the cuckoo cries.” At the same moment I hear the cry of the nightjar equivalent in our locale, the whip-poor-will, singing in the evening darkness. The translator explains the intended hour as one of the five two-hour watches in urban China, adding that the cuckoo’s cry (in Chinese as pu-ju-kuei-ch’u) means “better go home.” In Japan, the hototogisu or cuckoo or nightingale, calls out its own name, too, a sad sound suggestive to tradition of a lost soul trying to find its way home. Perhaps the American “whip-poor-will” with its similar plaintive cry should be renamed something like “weep until.”