Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cryptic Symbolism in John Talbot’s “Nightjar”

This poem may just fit the stereotype of all poems. Right from the beginning the symbolism is trying. You are left to grapple with each word fighting to try and decipher what the poet was trying to represent to the reader. This can be fun to some, frustrating to others. In the case of this poem, it does not come easily. The poem begins:
“And if I shrink to drain your flask of pitch?
Call you duskfeather, call you nightjar.
Up and churr then, up and hawk for moths.
Come morning, not crosswise as others do”

A quick search of the word Nightjar will give you lists of information on a bird called a nightjar. This may help the reader begin to surmise the meaning of the poem. Nightjars are active at evening and all through the night. They also eat moths as a main food source.

The poem ends with:
“You toast of no vintage, you draft
Of afterthought tipped pinging into the butt,
Nightjar. Shallow in the ruts you scored
By the footpath, your paired bald

Eggs will baffle in the sun the toddler
Tomorrow and the toddler’s mother.”

In this sense we can see that the nightjar can be compared to the mother of a toddler. This reminds me of my personal reflections of my own mother. Just as the Nightjar works all through the night, the mother cares for the toddler late into the night. She wakes when the toddler has a nightmare or is sick. She cleans, prepares, and feeds.

The aspect of religion is also intriguing. There is an allusion made to the verse in the Docterine and Covenants, “shrank to drink the bitter cup” and also referring to the Savor’s words in Luke 22:42. This religious undertone further exemplifies the mother’s commitment to the child and to God. The symbolism between the Nightjar bird and the mother and child brings out the dedication of the mother.


  1. I appreciate your personal reflections on your mother and your observation about the allusion to the scriptures. Mothers are the most Christ-like people I know, so I appreciate the author's perspective on that.

  2. I thought it was really great that you knew or figured out what a Nightjar bird is. How you related the bird to mothers was very interesting. I liked how you related the scriptural reference with the bird as well. When you described the mothers and the bird the Nightjar it made me curious. I decided to look up what a Nightjar bird was as well. Thanks for the post!