Study Guide

The Nightingale Sadness

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In Nature there is nothing melancholy.
But some night-wandering man whose heart was pierced
With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,
Or slow distemper, or neglected love, (15-18)

Sorrow "pierced" the heart of the poor wandering man. That's some strong imagery. Be it from an old grief, a bad mood, or a romantic loss, the sorrow sure did a job on this wandering fellow. Being sad can sometimes feel like taking an arrow to the chest.

Full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs
O'er Philomela's pity-pleading strains. (38-39)

Poor Philomela. If ever there was someone deserving to wallow in self-pity, it's the woman who had her tongue cut out before she was turned into a bird. The poets sigh, full of "meek sympathy" over the nightingale's song, thinking of her plight. By describing their sighs as weak and soft, the speaker is indicating that they might not be very deep or sincere. They think the nightingale sings a sad song, but perhaps that's just because that's what they've read in poems.

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

The child's sadness is cured instantly by the sight of the moon. In fact, it makes him laugh. Does the speaker think that nature can cure sorrow? For children and poets, at least, the answer is yes. It probably couldn't hurt the rest of us to give it a chance, too.

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