Study Guide

The Nightingale Sadness

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Historically speaking, the nightingale is the Debbie Downer of poetry symbols. The song of the nightingale is often equated with melancholy, sorrow, and just all-around bad times. But, argues the speaker of "The Nightingale," that's only a reflection of the listener's mood. The speaker imagines a poet suddenly remembering a source of grief or heartbreak upon hearing the nightingale's song and deciding that it was a melancholy noise. But is the nightingale itself sad? That, argues the speaker, cannot be discerned by just its song, which could just as easily be joyful. It is only the sadness of mankind that is being reflected when poets call an element of nature "melancholy." We self-centered humans project our sadness onto all sorts of things.

Questions About Sadness

  1. What causes the poet to equate the song of the nightingale with sadness?
  2. How does the speaker describe the sunlight and clouds at the beginning of the poem? Could this indicate his own emotions?
  3. What cures the sadness of the child? What does the speaker hope for the child in the future?

Chew on This

Human sadness is the real problem here. It makes us more inclined to see the rest of the world as sad, too.

Actually, there is something inherently sad and lonely about the natural world, especially at night time. Don't go blaming the poets for pointing it out, Coleridge.

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