Parliament of owls

Now as the new moon rises, they convene
Deep in the wood. Dark shapes in noiseless flight
Alight to watch and wait. Others, unseen,
Announce their presence with their haunting calls.
And now the beech-branch-vaulted meeting halls
Stand ready for the business of the night.

For motions of great moment fill the hours
When day is done, away from watching eyes.
The statutes of these stern nocturnal powers
Are handed down to every mouse and vole
That shivers in its nest and hidden hole.
No clemency, appeal or compromise.

This legislature, old as life and time,
Serves its own interests, not some common good.
And at the distant church-clock’s plangent chime
They will divide and pass their savage law,
To be enforced by talon, beak and claw –
Just as their hapless subjects knew they would.


When the language hands you a collective noun like ‘a parliament of owls’ it seems a shame not to use it. I often hear the twany owls’ debates down in the woods when I’m walking the whippet at night; as a child, I was terrified by their hooting in the trees behind our house, but now it gives me a real thrill.


7 thoughts on “Parliament of owls

  1. Hi Nick, this is a terrific poem, the atmosphere of the gathering of owls 🙂 and their impressive hunting skills. No wonder other animals are scared! And they do seem to be the boss at night.
    I never heard the phrase “parliament of owls”, but they are connected with wisdom. Not sure why 🙂 Not sure human parliaments are wise either 🙂

    I don’t see owls often, but sometimes I hear them in the dunes behind our house, which makes me think they live in the bunkers there. A lonely kind of shiver comes from their sound. I used to feel sorry for them lol. I wonder if the whippet isn’t scared of them 🙂
    Good to see you are back! 🙂 x

  2. This is a beautiful poem again, Nick. The language! I read it out loud to Ethel, and we both smiled, partially at the sound of the music and partially at “the Idea!” as Ethel said. The expression of the owls as a parliament that sits in judgement and passes a savage law
    To be enforced by talon, beak and claw –
    Just as their hapless subjects knew they would.
    Your wonderful sonnet about your daughter growing up, as they all do (we have raised two wonderful daughters who have blessed us with grandchildren), your magnificent sestina, and so many of your other poems impress me deeply. You are poet, my friend, a true poet–and there is no higher praise that I know.

  3. As we become more urbanised there is a tendency I think to regard nature as some pretty picture from the front of a chocolate box.
    Your poem reminds us that it is anything but that!!

    You took me into the woods with you and also took me back to a year when I was able to watch, at relatively close quarters, a barn owl go about its daily business – a beautiful but deadly predator.


  4. Nick I love this really atmospheric poem! It is full of the “sternness” (?) that makes the owl such a fascinating creature.

    They are beyond beautiful to me and are definitely one species that leaves me in awe of nature and all her ways and they are so physically beautiful too.

    They are always considered wise aren’t they although Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh leaves me wondering! He professes to be wise, of course, he has to in order to present the correct image but he doesn’t always manage it!!

    Your poem is haunting and as ever so cleverly written. Your talent shines through here and I have to say this is one (only one!) of my favourites of yours.

    Christine xx

  5. I love the images you’ve painted in this poem. I could really visualize this midnight meeting. Owls are unique in that they are mysteriously able to be both majestic and terrifying! Thanks for sharing.

    Grace and peace to you,

    • Thank you, Eric – there’s something very primeval about their calls at night. I love hearing them; it reminds me that the Wild is never very far away, even in congested, built-up southern England, if you look and listen carefully enough.

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