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Nightingale Poems

Table of Contents

  1. Bird Song by Laura E. Richards
  2. The Singing Lesson by Jean Ingelow
  3. The Nightingale and the Glow-worm by William Cowper
  4. To The Nightingale by John Milton
  5. Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
  6. The Nightingale by Mark Akenside
  7. On a Nightingale in April by William Sharp
  8. To the Nightingale by William Drummond
  9. "O Nightingale! Thou Surely Art" by William Wordsworth
  10. Song by Hartley Coleridge
  11. Philomel by Richard Barnfield
  12. Philomela by Matthew Arnold

The nightingale is a small bird, about six inches in length, with a coat of dark-brown feathers above and of grayish, white beneath. Its voice is astonishingly strong and sweet, and, when wild, it usually sings throughout the evening and night from April to the middle of summer. The bird is common in Europe, but is not found in America.

  1. The Singing Lesson

    by Jean Ingelow

    A nightingale made a mistake;
    She sang a few notes out of tune:
    Her heart was ready to break,
    And she hid away from the moon.
    She wrung her claws, poor thing,
    But was far too proud to weep;
    She tucked her head under her wing,
    And pretended to be asleep.

    A lark, arm in arm with a thrush,
    Came sauntering up to the place;
    The nightingale felt herself blush,
    Though feathers hid her face;
    She knew they had heard her song,
    She felt them snicker and sneer;
    She thought that life was too long,
    And wished she could skip a year.

    "O nightingale!" cooed a dove;
    "O nightingale! what's the use?
    You bird of beauty and love,
    Why behave like a goose?
    Don't sulk away from our sight,
    Like a common, contemptible fowl;
    You bird of joy and delight,
    Why behave like an owl?

    "Only think of all you have done;
    Only think of all you can do;
    A false note is really fun
    From such a bird as you!
    Lift up your proud little crest,
    Open your musical beak;
    Other birds have to do their best,
    You need only to speak!"

    The nightingale shyly took
    Her head from under her wing,
    And, giving the dove a look,
    Straightway began to sing.
    There was never a bird could pass;
    The night was divinely calm;
    And the people stood on the grass
    To hear that wonderful psalm.

    The nightingale did not care,
    She only sang to the skies;
    Her song ascended there,
    And there she fixed her eyes.
    The people that stood below
    She knew but little about;
    And this tale has a moral, I know,
    If you'll try and find it out.

  2. The Nightingale and the Glow-worm

    by William Cowper

    A Nightingale, that all day long
    Had cheer'd the village with his song,
    Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
    Nor yet when eventide was ended,
    Began to feel, as well he might,
    The keen demands of appetite;
    When, looking eagerly around,
    He spied far off, upon the ground,
    A something shining in the dark,
    And knew the glow-worm by his spark;
    So stooping down from hawthorn top,
    He thought to put him in his crop.
    The worm, aware of his intent,
    Harangu'd him thus, right eloquent —

    Did you admire my lamp, quoth he,
    As much as I your minstrelsy,
    You would abhor to do me wrong,
    As much as I to spoil your song;
    For 'twas the self-same pow'r divine
    Taught you to sing, and me to shine;
    That you with music, I with light,
    Might beautify and cheer the night.
    The songster heard his short oration,
    And, warbling out his approbation,
    Releas'd him, as my story tells,
    And found a supper somewhere else.

    Hence jarring sectaries may learn
    Their real int'rest to discern;
    That brother should not war with brother,
    And worry and devour each other;
    But sing and shine by sweet consent,
    Till life's poor transient night is spent,
    Respecting in each other's case
    The gifts of nature and of grace.

    Those Christians best deserve the name
    Who studiously make peace their aim;
    Peace, both the duty and the prize
    Of him that creeps and him that flies.

  3. To The Nightingale

    by John Milton

    O nightingale that on yon bloomy spray
    Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
    Thou with fresh hope the lover's heart dost fill,
    While the jolly hours lead on propitious May.
    Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,

    First heard before the shallow cuckoo's bill,
    Portend success in love. O, if Jove's will
    Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
    Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
    Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
    As thou from year to year hast sung too late
    For my relief, yet hadst no reason why.
    Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
    Both them I serve, and of their train am I.

  4. Ode to a Nightingale

    by John Keats

    My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
    'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
    But being too happy in thy happiness,—
    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
    In some melodious plot
    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

    O for a draught of vintage, that hath been
    Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
    Tasting of Flora and the country green,
    Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
    O for a beaker full of the warm South,
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
    And purple-stained mouth;
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

    Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
    What thou among the leaves hast never known,
    The weariness, the fever, and the fret,
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
    Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
    Where youth grows pale, and specter-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
    And leaden-eyed despairs;
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

    Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
    Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
    But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
    Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
    Already with thee! tender is the night,
    And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
    Clustered around by all her starry Fays;
    But here there is no light,
    Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways

    I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
    Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
    But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
    Wherewith the seasonable month endows
    The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
    White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
    Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;
    And mid-May's eldest child,
    The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

    Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death,
    Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
    To take into the air my quiet breath;
    Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
    In such an ecstasy!
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

    Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
    No hungry generations tread thee down;
    The voice I hear this passing night was heard
    In ancient days by emperor and clown:
    Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
    The same that oft-times hath
    Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

    Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
    To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
    Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
    As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
    Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
    Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
    In the next valley-glades:
    Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

  5. The Nightingale

    by Mark Akenside

    To-night retired, the queen of heaven
    With young Endymion stays;
    And now to Hesper it is given
    Awhile to rule the vacant sky,
    Till she shall to her lamp supply
    A stream of brighter rays....

    Propitious send thy golden ray,
    Thou purest light above:
    Let no false flame seduce to stray
    Where gulf or steep lie hid for harm;
    But lead where music's healing charm
    May soothe afflicted love.

    To them, by many a grateful song
    In happier seasons vowed,
    These lawns, Olympia's haunt, belong:
    Oft by yon silver stream we walked,
    Or fixed, while Philomela talked,
    Beneath yon copses stood.

    Nor seldom, where the beechen boughs
    That roofless tower invade,
    We came, while her enchanting Muse
    The radiant moon above us held:
    Till, by a clamorous owl compelled,
    She fled the solemn shade.

    But hark! I hear her liquid tone!
    Now, Hesper, guide my feet
    Down the red marl with moss o'ergrown,
    Through yon wild thicket next the plain,
    Whose hawthorns choke the winding lane
    Which leads to her retreat.

    See the green space: on either hand
    Enlarged it spreads around:
    See, in the midst she takes her stand,
    Where one old oak his awful shade
    Extends o'er half the level mead,
    Enclosed in woods profound.

    Hark! how through many a melting note
    She now prolongs her lays:
    How sweetly down the void they float!
    The breeze their magic path attends;
    The stars shine out; the forest bends;
    The wakeful heifers gaze.

    Whoe'er thou art whom chance may bring
    To this sequestered spot,
    If then the plaintive Siren sing,
    O softly tread beneath her bower
    And think of Heaven's disposing power,
    Of man's uncertain lot.

    O think, o'er all this mortal stage
    What mournful scenes arise:
    What ruin waits on kingly rage;
    How often virtue dwells with woe;
    How many griefs from knowledge flow;
    How swiftly pleasure flies!

    O sacred bird! let me at eve,
    Thus wandering all alone,
    Thy tender counsel oft receive,
    Bear witness to thy pensive airs,
    And pity Nature's common cares,
    Till I forget my own.

  6. On a Nightingale in April

    by William Sharp

    The yellow moon is a dancing phantom
    Down secret ways of the flowing shade;
    And the waveless stream has a murmuring whisper
    Where the alders wave.

    Not a breath, not a sigh, save the slow stream's whisper:
    Only the moon is a dancing blade
    That leads a host of the Crescent warriors
    To a phantom raid.

    Out of the Lands of Faerie a summons,
    A long, strange cry that thrills through the glade:—
    The gray-green glooms of the elm are stirring,
    Newly afraid.

    Last heard, white music, under the olives
    Where once Theocritus sang and played—
    Thy Thracian song is the old new wonder,
    O moon-white maid!

  7. To the Nightingale

    by William Drummond

    Dear chorister, who from those shadows sends,
    Ere that the blushing morn dare show her light,
    Such sad lamenting strains, that night attends,
    Become all ear, stars stay to hear thy plight:
    If one whose grief even reach of thought transcends,

    Who ne'er, not in a dream, did taste delight,
    May thee importune who like care pretends,
    And seems to joy in woe, in woe's despite;
    Tell me (so may thou fortune milder try,
    And long, long sing) for what thou thus complains,
    Since, winter gone, the sun in dappled sky
    Now smiles on meadows, mountains, woods, and plains?
    The bird, as if my questions did her move,
    With trembling wings sobbed forth, I love! I love!"

  8. "O Nightingale! Thou Surely Art"

    by William Wordsworth

    O nightingale! thou surely art
    A creature of a "fiery heart":—
    These notes of thine—they pierce and pierce;
    Tumultuous harmony and fierce!
    Thou sing'st as if the God of wine
    Had helped thee to a Valentine;
    A song in mockery and despite
    Of shades, and dews, and silent night;
    And steady bliss, and all the loves
    Now sleeping in these peaceful groves.

    I heard a Stock-dove sing or say
    His homely tale, this very day;
    His voice was buried among trees,
    Yet to be come at by the breeze:
    He did not cease, but cooed—and cooed;
    And somewhat pensively he wooed:
    He sang of love, with quiet blending,
    Slow to begin, and never ending;
    Of serious faith, and inward glee;
    That was the Song—the Song for me!

  9. Song

    by Hartley Coleridge

    'Tis sweet to hear the merry lark,
    That bids a blithe good-morrow;
    But sweeter to hark, in the twinkling dark,
    To the soothing song of sorrow.
    Oh nightingale! What doth she ail?
    And is she sad or jolly?
    For ne'er on earth was sound of mirth
    So like to melancholy.

    The merry lark, he soars on high,
    No worldly thought o'ertakes him;
    He sings aloud to the clear blue sky,
    And the daylight that awakes him.
    As sweet a lay, as loud, as gay,
    The nightingale is trilling;
    With feeling bliss, no less than his,
    Her little heart is thrilling.

    Yet ever and anon, a sigh
    Peers through her lavish mirth;
    For the lark's bold song is of the sky,
    And hers is of the earth.
    By night and day, she tunes her lay,
    To drive away all sorrow;
    For bliss, alas! to-night must pass,
    And woe may come to-morrow.

  10. Philomel

    by Richard Barnfield

    As it fell upon a day
    In the merry month of May,
    Sitting in a pleasant shade
    Which a grove of myrtles made,
    Beasts did leap and birds did sing,
    Trees did grow and plants did spring;

    Everything did banish moan
    Save the Nightingale alone:
    She, poor bird, as all forlorn
    Leaned her breast up—till a thorn,
    And there sung the doleful'st ditty,
    That to hear it was great pity.
    Fie, fie, fie! now would she cry;
    Tereu, Tereu! by and by;
    That to hear her so complain
    Scarce I could from tears refrain;
    For her griefs so lively shown
    Made me think upon mine own.
    Ah! thought I, thou mourn'st in vain,
    None takes pity on thy pain:
    Senseless trees they cannot hear thee,
    Ruthless beasts they will not cheer thee:
    King Pandion he is dead,
    All thy friends are lapped in lead;
    All thy fellow birds do sing
    Careless of thy sorrowing:
    Even so, poor bird, like thee,
    None alive will pity me.

  11. Philomela

    by Matthew Arnold

    Hark! ah, the nightingale—
    The tawny-throated!
    Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst!
    What triumph! hark!—what pain!

    O wanderer from a Grecian shore,
    Still, after many years, in distant lands,
    Still nourishing in thy bewildered brain
    That wild, unquenched, deep-sunken, old-world pain—
    Say, will it never heal?
    And can this fragrant lawn
    With its cool trees, and night,
    And the sweet, tranquil Thames,
    And moonshine, and the dew,
    To thy racked heart and brain
    Afford no balm?

    Dost thou to-night behold,
    Here, through the moonlight on this English grass,
    The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild?
    Dost thou again peruse
    With hot cheeks and seared eyes
    The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame?
    Dost thou once more assay
    Thy flight, and feel come over thee,
    Poor fugitive, the feathery change
    Once more, and once more seem to make resound
    With love and hate, triumph and agony,
    Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale?
    Listen, Eugenia—
    How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves!
    Again—thou hearest?
    Eternal passion!
    Eternal pain!

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