Study Guide

The Nightingale Stanza 3

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Stanza 3

Lines 69-74

A most gentle Maid, Who dwelleth in her hospitable home
Hard by the castle, and at latest eve
(Even like a Lady vowed and dedicate
To something more than Nature in the grove)
Glides through the pathways; she knows all their notes 

  • Coleridge again uses a line break to split up a single line and signal a stanza change.
  • A "gentle maid" who lives near the castle comes to wander in the grove.
  • She's coming for more than just the nature. She seeks something…
  • And she's been there many times before, it seems. She knows all the notes that the birds sing.
  • It sounds like a nature-loving lady who'd get along with our speaker quite well.

Lines 75-80

That gentle Maid! and oft, a moment's space,
What time the moon was lost behind a cloud,
Hath heard a pause of silence; till the moon
Emerging, hath awakened earth and sky
With one sensation, and those wakeful birds
Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy,

  • The speaker describes a moment when the night sky appears to be moon-less.
  • The moon is actually just behind a cloud.
  • When it emerges, all the birds start singing in unison, like a chorus.
  • It isn't just the birds that respond. The speaker says the whole earth and all of the sky wake up when the moon emerges.
  • Hmm—waking up and singing aren't two activities that we usually associate with nighttime.
  • That's probably because we aren't birds.
  • Coleridge is reminding us that there's a whole world of activity when the sun goes down.

Lines 81-84

As if some sudden gale had swept at once
A hundred airy harps! And she hath watched
Many a nightingale perch giddily
On blossomy twig still swinging from the breeze,

  • The speaker is still describing the chorus of birds, this time comparing them to the sound of harps.
  • Harps are generally associated with angels.
  • So, he is again using some celestial imagery while talking about nature.
  • Remember, that he also called nature "immortal."
  • So, is nature his idea of heaven? He was a British Romantic, after all.
  • The maiden is still in the grove, and she notices a giddy little nightingale sitting on a twig.
  • Communing with animals? She kind of sounds like a Disney princess.
  • In fact, there is something mythical about her.
  • Remember that Philomela, referenced earlier, was a nightingale… but she began as a woman.
  • Is this, perhaps, Philomela in human form?
  • Your guess is as good as ours, but there's a good chance that Coleridge wanted you to at least consider the parallels.

Lines 85-86

And to that motion tune his wanton song
Like tipsy Joy that reels with tossing head.

  • "Wanton" can mean playful, or it can be something a little more sexual.
  • Whatever the nightingale is up to, though, he's happy about it. His song is described as joyful and "tipsy."
  • Or is that just another assumption we humans make, based on our own feelings?
  • That kind of assumption is what the speaker has been warning against this whole time.
  • Hmm… hypocrite much there, Mr. Speaker?
  • Remember, though, that people usually think the nightingale sounds melancholy. Perhaps the speaker is trying to indicate that, though the song may sound sorrowful, the creature singing it may be in an entirely different mood.
  • Or, like the glow worms, the creature may just be trying to mate.
  • Whatever the case, this happy image serves to contrast the way the heartbroken man in the first stanza categorized the nightingale's song.

Lines 87-90

Farewell, O Warbler! till to-morrow eve,
And you, my friends! farewell, a short farewell!
We have been loitering long and pleasantly,
And now for our dear homes.—That strain again!

  • It's time to go. The speaker bids us goodnight (after he bids the nightingale goodnight).
  • He'll be back tomorrow, though.
  • He doesn't seem to get bored with the night sky.
  • It's been fun, he says, but it's time to go home.
  • But, before we can leave, the nightingale sings again.

Lines 91-95

Full fain it would delay me! My dear babe,
Who, capable of no articulate sound,
Mars all things with his imitative lisp,
How he would place his hand beside his ear,
His little hand, the small forefinger up,

  • He's happy to let the song delay him a little.
  • It reminds him of his child, who it too young to be able to speak but tries to imitate the bird's song.
  • He doesn't do a great job of imitating the beauty of the song (he's a baby after all), but he sure tries.

Lines 96-100

And bid us listen! And I deem it wise
To make him Nature's play-mate. He knows well
The evening-star; and once, when he awoke
In most distressful mood (some inward pain
Had made up that strange thing, an infant's dream—)

  • The speaker thinks it's a good idea to have his child enjoy nature.
  • Why? Well, he's spent a lot of time telling us that nature is eternal, that communing with nature brings joy.
  • Naturally he'd want that for his children.
  • The speaker spends a lot of time outside with his child, and so the child is used to seeing the night sky.
  • We guess somebody gets to stay up past his bedtime.
  • Once, the child woke up after a bad dream. He calls infant dreams "strange" and… well, we'll just have to take his word for it.

Lines 101-105

I hurried with him to our orchard-plot,
And he beheld the moon, and, hushed at once,
Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently,
While his fair eyes, that swam with undropped tears,
Did glitter in the yellow moon-beam! Well!—

  • The speaker took his son to the orchard outside in order to calm him down.
  • It worked. When the child saw the moon, he stopped crying.
  • He started to laugh, even.
  • The speaker describes his eyes as glittering in the moonlight—like father, like son.

Lines 106-110

It is a father's tale: But if that Heaven
Should give me life, his childhood shall grow up
Familiar with these songs, that with the night
He may associate joy.—Once more, farewell,
Sweet Nightingale! once more, my friends! farewell.

  • Here, he directly calls nature "Heaven."
  • Communing with nature, then, is how he communes with holy things.
  • He wants his son to grow up familiar with nature, and he wants his son to love it the way he does.
  • He also wants his son to associate night with joy, rather than sorrow or anything else we might normally associate it with.
  • Question: when do we set most of our spooky stories?
  • Answer: nighttime.
  • For Coleridge, this association seems unfair. He's arguing that it's no more gloomy or spooky than daytime, and it's just our emotions that make it seem one way or the other.
  • He says a final goodnight, to the nightingale and to us…
    ….at least until tomorrow night.