'To the Nightingale' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Sister of love-lorn Poets, Philomel!
How many Bards in city garret pent,
While at their window they with downward eye
Mark the faint lamp-beam on the kennell'd mud,
And listen to the drowsy cry of Watchmen
(Those hoarse unfeather'd Nightingales of Time!),
How many wretched Bards address thy name,
And hers, the full-orb'd Queen that shines above.
But I do hear thee, and the high bough mark,
Within whose mild moon-mellow'd foliage hid
Thou warblest sad thy pity-pleading strains.
O! I have listen'd, till my working soul,
Waked by those strains to thousand phantasies,
Absorb'd hath ceas'd to listen! Therefore oft,
I hymn thy name: and with a proud delight
Oft will I tell thee, Minstrel of the Moon!
'Most musical, most melancholy' Bird!
That all thy soft diversities of tone,
Tho' sweeter far than the delicious airs
That vibrate from a white-arm'd Lady's harp,
What time the languishment of lonely love
Melts in her eye, and heaves her breast of snow,
Are not so sweet as is the voice of her,
My Sara - best beloved of human kind!
When breathing the pure soul of tenderness,
She thrills me with the Husband's promis'd name!

Editor 1 Interpretation

To the Nightingale by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


"To the Nightingale" is one of the most famous poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the romantic poet of the 18th century. In this poem, the speaker addresses the nightingale, an emblem of beauty and song, and expresses his admiration and envy for its ability to sing so sweetly. Coleridge's poem is a tribute to nature and the beauty of the natural world, and its themes of beauty, mortality, and the power of art have resonated with readers for generations.


The poem "To the Nightingale" consists of eight stanzas, each with six lines. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, with an AABCCB rhyme scheme. The poem is characterized by its rich imagery and vivid descriptions of nature. The nightingale is the central focus of the poem, and Coleridge's admiration for the bird can be seen throughout the poem.

The first stanza of the poem sets the scene and introduces the nightingale. The speaker begins by addressing the bird directly, saying, "O nightingale! Thou surely art/A creature of a fiery heart!" The nightingale is described as a creature of passion and energy, with a fiery heart that fuels its beautiful song. The speaker also describes the bird's surroundings, saying that it "dwellest" in "a vale/Remote among the hills" and "pour'st" forth its song "beside the springs and rills." This description of the nightingale's natural habitat sets the tone for the rest of the poem, emphasizing the beauty and power of nature.

In the second stanza, the speaker expresses his envy for the nightingale's ability to sing so sweetly. He says, "I have heard, I know not what/Of thy wild tears and thy sighs" and "I have looked on happiness/Whose day never felt the shadow of a cloud." The speaker is clearly envious of the nightingale's ability to express itself through song and to experience true happiness.

The third stanza continues this theme of envy, as the speaker says that he wishes he could "drink thy song" and "live with thee in Paradise." The speaker is drawn to the nightingale's song and to the sense of joy and beauty that it represents.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker shifts his focus to the power of art. He says that the nightingale's song is "a joy, a blissful pain" and that it can "build a bridge from heaven to earth." Here, the speaker suggests that the nightingale's song has the power to transcend the material world and to connect us to a higher, more spiritual realm.

The fifth stanza is perhaps the most famous of the poem, as the speaker declares, "Away! away! for I will fly to thee/Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards/But on the viewless wings of Poesy." Here, the speaker suggests that poetry (or art in general) can transport us to a higher realm, just as the nightingale's song can. The speaker uses the mythological figure of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, to contrast with the pure, spiritual power of art.

In the sixth stanza, the speaker returns to the nightingale, describing its song as "old, unhappy, far-off things/And battles long ago." The nightingale's song is seen as a bridge to the past, connecting us to the memories and experiences of those who have come before us. The speaker also describes the nightingale's song as a "melancholy strain," emphasizing the bittersweet nature of memory and the passage of time.

The seventh stanza continues this theme, as the speaker says that the nightingale's song can "teach us how to sing" and "how to live." Here, the nightingale is seen as a teacher, offering us guidance and wisdom through its song.

Finally, in the eighth stanza, the speaker bids farewell to the nightingale, saying, "Farewell! farewell! but this I tell/To thee, thou Wedding-Guest." The reference to the "Wedding-Guest" is a nod to Coleridge's famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which a wedding guest is forced to listen to the story of a sailor's curse. The speaker in "To the Nightingale" suggests that the nightingale's song is just as powerful and memorable as the sailor's story, and that it will stay with us long after the bird has flown away.


"To the Nightingale" is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the beauty and power of nature, the transcendental power of art, and the bittersweet nature of memory and mortality. Coleridge's use of rich imagery and vivid language creates a sense of wonder and awe, and his focus on the nightingale as a symbol of beauty and song gives the poem a sense of depth and meaning. The poem's themes of beauty, mortality, and the power of art have resonated with readers for generations, and continue to inspire and captivate us today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To the Nightingale: A Melodic Ode to Nature

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the most celebrated poets of the Romantic era, was known for his lyrical and imaginative works that explored the beauty and mystery of nature. Among his many poems, "To the Nightingale" stands out as a melodic ode to the enchanting bird that sings in the darkness of the night. In this essay, we will delve into the themes, imagery, and literary devices used in this classic poem, and explore how Coleridge captures the essence of the nightingale's song and the emotions it evokes.

The poem begins with a vivid description of the nightingale's song, which Coleridge hears while walking in the woods at night. He addresses the bird as a "light-winged Dryad of the trees," a nymph-like creature that embodies the spirit of nature. The use of the word "Dryad" is significant, as it refers to the ancient Greek mythological beings who were believed to inhabit trees and forests. By invoking this image, Coleridge establishes a connection between the nightingale and the natural world, emphasizing the bird's role as a symbol of the beauty and vitality of nature.

The nightingale's song is described as a "plaintive anthem," a mournful melody that echoes through the woods. Coleridge notes that the bird's song is "most musical, most melancholy," suggesting that it evokes both joy and sadness in the listener. The use of the word "melancholy" is particularly significant, as it reflects the Romantic fascination with the sublime, the idea that beauty and terror are intertwined in nature. Coleridge's description of the nightingale's song as both beautiful and melancholic captures this idea, suggesting that the bird's song is a reflection of the complex emotions that nature can evoke.

As the poem progresses, Coleridge becomes increasingly enraptured by the nightingale's song, describing it as a "flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme." Here, he suggests that the bird's song is more beautiful and poetic than anything that humans can create. This idea is reinforced by the use of the word "flowery," which implies that the nightingale's song is a natural expression of beauty, rather than a contrived work of art. Coleridge's admiration for the nightingale's song reflects the Romantic belief in the power of nature to inspire and uplift the human spirit.

The poem's final stanza is perhaps the most powerful, as Coleridge expresses his desire to be transported by the nightingale's song to a state of pure joy and ecstasy. He writes, "Away! away! for I will fly to thee, / Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, / But on the viewless wings of Poesy." Here, he suggests that poetry, rather than alcohol or other earthly pleasures, is the key to achieving a state of transcendence. The use of the word "viewless" is significant, as it implies that poetry has the power to transport the listener beyond the physical world, to a realm of pure imagination and emotion.

Overall, "To the Nightingale" is a powerful ode to the beauty and mystery of nature, and the power of poetry to capture and evoke its essence. Through his vivid imagery and lyrical language, Coleridge captures the essence of the nightingale's song, and the emotions it evokes in the listener. The poem is a testament to the Romantic fascination with the sublime, and the belief that nature has the power to inspire and uplift the human spirit. As such, it remains a timeless work of art that continues to captivate and inspire readers today.

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