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Picture 10186400, photograph for the Mustograph Agency, 1960s, image copyright Mary Evans

The Austringer
by Amanda Bell


In 1937 T H White set out to break a goshawk, using the long-superseded method of depriving the bird of sleep.



White knew it could take several days

to break the goshawk, whose dandelion eye

flared in the barn’s dim light

as he bated stubbornly

with all his feathered weight,

so neither bird nor man could rest.


Stealth alone could lull him down to rest –

a contest that went on for days.

White’s only weapon was to wait,

show no impatience, keep an eye

on how the goshawk stubbornly

rejected the temptation to alight.


Cloistered in a barn with little light,

by the second day White yearned for rest

but like the hawk persisted, stubbornly,

somnambulant through nights and days,

watching his challenger with heavy eye –

his only strategy: to wait.


To bring the bird down he must wait

till it was willing to alight.

So neither met the other’s eye –

hubris struggling with desire to rest.

The will to power went on for days,

both man and bird resisting stubbornly,


until, without surrender, stubbornly

the goshawk sank his flagging weight

on outstretched arm. Through sleep-shot daze

the austringer could see the light –

the prospect of elusive rest

for bone-tired limb and blood-rimmed eye.


Likewise in the early hours, I,

too, am wrestling stubbornly

with sleep, but find no rest.

Goshawk or austringer? I wait

to see who will yield first, but soon it’s light –

grey scaling between nights and days.


On whose whim do the sleepless wait

so stubbornly to rest, impervious to dark and light?

What yellow eye seen through a daze?



© Amanda Bell, first published in First the Feathers, Doire Press, 2017

Picture 10186400, photograph for the Mustograph Agency, 1960s, image copyright Mary Evans



Amanda Bell’s publications include Riptide (Doire Press, 2021); Revolution (wildflower poetry press 2022); First the Feathers (Doire Press, 2017), which was shortlisted for the Strong Shine Award for best first collection; Undercurrents (Alba, 2016), which won an HSA Kanterman Merit Book Award and was shortlisted for a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award; The Lost Library Book (Onslaught, 2017); and the loneliness of the sasquatch, from the Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock (Alba, 2018). Her poem ‘Points’ was on a shortlist of four for the Irish Poem of the Year 2017. She is assistant editor of The Haibun Journal. In 2020 and 2022 she was awarded Literature Bursaries by The Arts Council of Ireland.


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