By day, I do not see them. No; they wait
Till midnight’s passed and silence lies like snow
Then come for me, on black, slow-beating wings
Like hunting birds. Yet there’s no bird that sings
Out in the wood with their look in his eye,
Or power to snatch me from my dreams to lie
In this suspended, caught-between-worlds state.

What thoughts are these that haunt the bounds between
Sweet rest and wakefulness? For even though
I run to distant hills or silver shore
They always track me down. No bolted door
Can keep them out, no wine or whiskey keep
Their calls from creeping through the veils of sleep
With warning tales of things unknown, unseen.

The work I’ve left undone, have yet to do;
How much I’ve earned and spent, how much I owe,
The threat of great events in distant lands,
The sense that time is running through my hands,
My rattling car. The aching in my knee.
My tiny pension pot. And suddenly
The night birds are assembling, right on cue.

Too long they’ve had their way. Their time is done.
I will rise up, rebel and overthrow
This tyranny. They feed upon my fears –
And I have fed them richly down the years –
But they will get no more from me. I’ll fight,
For action is the cure – take back the night,
And sleep till gently shaken by the sun.


15 thoughts on “Insomnia

  1. Hi Nick
    This is the first poem on my day and I don’t think there will be a better one!
    I love this, the word insomnia as a plural for saters. That is so clever! Your best poem I think. 🙂
    “They come on black slow beating wings” – love that.

    I know long nights like this, like most people do.
    “Their look in his eye” (plural and singular) I am pondering on that, I will get it!

    I hope you slept better now!
    Ina x

    • Hi Ina – thank you for your lovely comment! I actually started this poem way back at New Year, when I discovered the ‘night birds’ had followed me all the way to my mother-in-law’s house in west Wales (no small achievement for them, as it’s miles from anywhere!!) It was all ready to go (I thought) last night when, at the last moment, I realised it needed another stanza (the third one); having taken about six weeks to write the first three, I got the last one together in about 10 minutes, which I guess proves it was ‘meant to be’. Anyway, I’m very pleased you liked it – and yes, I did sleep better, if only for having finished it at last!! N. x

  2. Hi Nich,

    This is a terrific poem! As ever, though I need not say it, but you truly shine with this one.

    “and I have fed them richly down the years” is so true for many of us I think and it’s a great line for me about trying to take responsibility for all this and not allowing those creatures to invade our nights – easier said than done; for me at least.

    Christine xx

    • Thank you, Christine – and for me it’s easier to write a poem about than do, too, I can tell you! As I explained to Ina, this poem has been a long time coming, so I’m really pleased you think it works. The ‘night birds’ haven’t gone completely, but they’re looking a bit stringy and underfed now! 🙂 N.xx

  3. A wonderful poem of determination and hope.

    We all suffer from those night-birds from time to time and although we know we are “feeding” them it is extremely difficult to stop ourselves.

    But it does pass and that is the powerful message I get from your poem.
    That and the fact that it is not only me!!!

    May I commend to you a poem by Fleur Adcock –


    There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
    There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
    committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
    than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
    It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
    and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.


    • Thank you David – and judging by the comments I’ve received, it definitely isn’t just you (or me, for that matter!) Thank you too for the Fleur Adcock poem; it’s new to me, which is great in itself, and a beautiful piece with a satisifyingly chilling feel to it – marvellous! N.

  4. Like David, I also know and admire the Fleur Adcock poem. There’s a great consolation, isn’t there, in finding that other people share some of our woes (such as these night birds)?
    By the way, I’m intrigued by the rhyming scheme you adopted; I don’t think I’ve seen that before.

  5. Nick, sometimes I’m in awe of your skill as a poet. I’m a little behind in my comments. I just had surgery and am only now getting so that I can type. I guess I have bladder cancer, but the surgeon said she got all of the tumors, although the operation took twice as long as the normal one for this procedure.
    What can I say about this poem? The language is, as usual, magnificent. The rhyme scheme delights me. I’ll try the Moore scheme if I ever get through the sonnets and epic.
    And then “Then come for me, on black, slow-beating wings
    Like hunting birds.” The chilling power of this reminds me of the best language of Tolkein’s prose. And the truth is that insomnia is like that–
    …And suddenly
    The night birds are assembling, right on cue.
    out of our fears and gnawing worries, both of which I have been subject to a little bit lately.
    One of these days, when I get my voice back so that it doesn’t sound like a raspy rusted saw, I am going to figure out a way to read one of your poems to you and get that recording to you. Ina managed to figure out how to do that for David, so I can ask how she did it. I almost always have the compulsion to let you hear how your poetry sounds to me.
    Ethel says to tell you that you that this poem was great, a tribute to your language and traditional poetic skills. Tom and Ethel

    • As ever, you leave me humbled and amazed by your comment. I would count it the greatest privilege to have you read my work aloud; the technology is beyond me, I fear, but if it can be done, it would be wonderful indeed. As to your other news; I’ve sent you a separate email. N.

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