Study Guide

The Nightingale Man and the Natural World

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Man and the Natural World

No cloud, no relique of the sunken day
Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip
Of sullen light, no obscure trembling hues. (1-3)

The poem opens with some night-sky imagery. But the way the speaker talks about the sky may be different than the way most people do. The day is described as "sunken" and the light is described as "sullen" with "obscure trembling" colors. These adjectives are pretty bleak, right? Perhaps he's trying to get us to reconsider our normal associations with daylight.

Yet let us think upon the vernal showers
That gladden the green earth, and we shall find (9-10)

Our speaker sure does love his moss, trees, and growing things. Here, the earth is made happy by the rain, and the whole scene is one of springtime bliss. He echoes the green imagery throughout poem, and never challenges the way we associate spring with happiness. Perhaps the speaker just enjoys it too much to question it.

[…] and so his song
Should make all Nature lovelier, and itself (32-33)

After the poet spends some time in nature, argues the speaker, he'll be better able to compose a fitting ode to the natural world. He'll be a better poet who can, in turn, better nature with his words. Mankind's relationship to the natural world would then be one of mutual benefit. Sounds nice, right?

Be loved like Nature! But 'twill not be so;
And youths and maidens most poetical,
Who lose the deepening twilights of the spring
In ball-rooms and hot theatres, (34-37)

Sigh. We guess that whole "mutually beneficial" relationship with nature is not meant to be. The speaker figures that young people and poets will always prefer to sit inside theaters or go dancing instead of spending time outside. They'll miss out on all the good stuff, he figures, like the "deepening twilights" of spring.

Glistening, while many a glow-worm in the shade
Lights up her love-torch. (68-69)

Ever see a glow worm? They give off a bright, neon, colorful glow. It's a marvelous sight, but Coleridge doesn't include it just to be pretty. He mentions the actual function of the "glow": it attracts mates. So, while most humans might think it is some magical phenomena, he reminds the readers that nature has its own reasons, and they aren't the same as the ones we assign based on how nature makes us feel.

And he beheld the moon, and, hushed at once,
Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently, (102-103)

The speaker's son woke up crying with a nightmare and was comforted by the sight of the moon. He's not old enough to be afraid of nighttime. In fact, he seems to find it delightful. Is the speaker trying to say that children learn to be afraid of the dark, and that we don't naturally associate it with all things spooky and scary?

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