‘Mozart’s Starling’, by Robert Cording

A little fool lies here
Whom I hold dear—
—Mozart, lines of a poem for his pet starling

None of his friends understood.
A poem for a bird?—
and a funeral, and the ridiculous
request that they dress in formal attire.

But when Mozart whistled a yet-to-be
fragment of a piano concerto
in the marketplace, the bird
may have sang it back to him—

the starling appears in his diary
of expenses, May 27, 1784,
along with a transcription of its song.
What fun they must have had,

he whistling a melody, the bird,
a virtuoso mimic, echoing it back,
interspersed among its clicks
and slurs and high-pitched squeals.

Music to Mozart’s ears,
that dear bird who sang incessantly
for the duration of its three
short years in Mozart’s company.

His little fool was wise indeed—
it could hear a squeaking door,
a teapot letting off its steam,
a woman crying or rain pinging

in metal buckets and gurgling
in gutters, even a horse’s snort
or Mozart scratching notes,
and sing it back until Mozart, too,

could hear the cockeyed,
nonstop music in the incidental
bits and pieces of the world going by,
the exuberant excess of it all.

— Robert Cording, ‘Mozart’s Starling’.


  1. R.S. Thomas, birdwatcher extraoridnaire, would have understood:

    The swifts winnow the air,
    It is pleasant at the end of the day
    To watch them. I have shut the mind
    On fools. The phone’s phrenzy
    Is over.

    From “Swifts”


  2. Jason, this is a beautiful poem, and an absolute delight to read out loud. I’m now going to listen to the Mozart Clarinet Concerto! Glad to be back online after a 6 week exile transferring broadband to our new home. And by the way, it is a privilege and a pleasure to be commenting on the blog of DOCTOR Jason Goroncy. Blessings my friend.


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