Study Guide

The Nightingale Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

And hark! the Nightingale begins its song,
'Most musical, most melancholy' bird! (12-13)

Coleridge quotes Milton here. If you've got to quote a poet, you may as well go for one considered a master. Milton clearly found the bird to be a sorrowful creature, and his verse became famous enough for others to quote. This prompts the speaker to recall the line when he hears the nightingale's song.

(And so, poor wretch! fill'd all things with himself,
And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale
Of his own sorrow) he, and such as he,
First named these notes a melancholy strain:
And many a poet echoes the conceit; (19-23)

The "poor wretch" is the poet who, with a broken heart, thought the nightingale sounded melancholy. In fact, everything he heard seemed to sound melancholy. The speaker blames the wretch's mood for the popular idea that nightingales have a sorrowful song, and he blames the poets who repeated for making it a popular idea.

Poet who hath been building up the rhyme
When he had better far have stretched his limbs
Beside a brook in mossy forest-dell, (24-26)

The poet would have been better to spend time outside, says the speaker. Instead of creating rhymes indoors, the poet should lie in the grass near a brook and take it all in. Well, we guess a famous poet like Coleridge is qualified to give a piece or two of poetic advice.

Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song
And of his fame forgetful! so his fame
Should share in Nature's immortality,
A venerable thing! and so his song (29-32)

If the poets heeds his advice and "surrenders" himself to nature, forgetting his poem and his fame, he'll became part of nature's immortality. It's worthwhile, says Coleridge, to join something more eternal than oneself. Is it fame that stands in the way of the poet truly reaching their full potential?

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