Study Guide

The Nightingale Sound Check

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Sound Check

Just what does a nightingale sound like? According to Coleridge, it sounds like a "musical and swift jug jug" (60). Sureā€¦ who doesn't love the sound of a good jug jug?

But that's not what we mean when we talk about the sound of the poem. There's a whole lot of cadence (or, rhythm) in Coleridge's wordplay, and there are a few clever sonic tricks he uses to bring it out.

For example, try reading the following aloud:

By sun or moon-light, to the influxes
Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements
Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song

Notice anything? The S sound is repeated quite a few times, at the beginning, middle, and ends of words. That, friends, is called consonance, and it gives a little lyrical lilt to the lines.

Coleridge uses it a ton.

That's not his only trick, though. The poet also sprinkles plenty of exclamation marks throughout the poem. For example:

As if some sudden gale had swept at once
A hundred airy harps! And she hath watched

If you read it aloud, you'll notice that the exclamation mark forces you to stop and pause momentarily. Coleridge is using a caesura. Much like the way we speak in real life, the poem starts and stops, building momentum before slowing down a bit.

One other way that this poem makes its sounds pop is through a technique called alliteration. That's a specialized kind of consonance where the beginning sounds of each word are repeated:

'Most musical, most melancholy' bird! (13)

All those M words add to the musicality of the language. Taken with the poem's use of consonance and caesura, we've got a poem that practically sings. And we'd say that's pretty appropriate, given its focus on the nightingale's song.

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