The Nightingale by Sir Philip Sidney (1595)

Summary
The Nightingale  is one of the famous poems of Sir Philip Sidney. The poem is based on book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses which tells us the tale of Philomela who was raped by her sister’s husband, Tereus. Philomela and Procne were the daughters of King Pandion of Attica. Procne married Tereus of Thrace, even though he lusted after Philomela. Sooner or later, Tereus raped Philomela and reduce out her tongue to silence her. She, but, wove the tale into a tapestry that she despatched to her sister. Procne then killed her son and served him for dinner to Tereus. The girls fled, pursued through Tereus, but the gods turned them all into birds: Procne have become a nightingale,  Philomela a swallow, and Tereus a hoopoe.

Analysis of Philomela on The Nightingale

If you are not familiar with the story of Ovid, it is in his Metamorphoses, originally written in Latin dating from 8 CE. Here’s a brief synopsis: Tereus, married to Procne, rapes Philomela who was Procne’s sister. When Philomela Threates to expose him, he cuts her tongue out and locks her hostage. She can’t speak, but she learns to weave, so she weaves a tapestry that explaining her ordeal that she smuggles out to her sister. The tale is not happily finished, however. In reality, Procne and Philomela are murdering Procne’s only son and feeding him to Tereus, to exact their revenge. The women then run, and turn themselves into birds as they escape.

The violence against Philomela is first against her body, and then against her voice. The voice of Philomela is the most serious threat to Tereus. After Tereus rapes Philomela, she exclaims,

I’ll shed my shame
And shout what you have done. If I’ve the chance,
I’ll walk among the crowds: or, if I’m held
Locked in the woods, my voice shall fill the woods
And move the rocks to pit. This bright sky
Shall hear, and any god that dwells on high!

There’s no mistake here about the power Philomela has. Her power is her voice— her protest to be quiet. The voice of Philomela is not just the words she cords together, but her ability to speak, speak out, and expose Tereus for the vile man he is. Her voice will be powerful enough for even the gods to hear. She will use her voice to “shed[ her] shame.” Shame that she was forced upon her with sexual violence by Tereus. The same shame that all usually all the harassed and assaulted women witnessed. The shame that many of these women are pushing deep down into that place between the belly and the ribcage where it’s sits, festers, gnaws. But Philomela is going to shed that shame, because she has her voice at that moment.Tereus will not get away with what he has done: he won’t shame her. He won’t control her.

But Tereus—the Ovidian equivalent of Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump—can’t allow Philomela to hold on to her power, and thereby, her voice. So, he does what all men in his position do: he strips away her power; he silences her. To silence Philomela, Tereus doesn’t gag her; he doesn’t wall her up behind thick stone. No, Tereus silences Philomela in a brutal act of aggression: he “seized / Her tongue with tongs and, with his brutal sword, Cut it away.” Tereus literally cuts out Philomela’s tongue. This egregious act of violence is a literalized metaphor for the violence done to women’s voices over the centuries, and especially, as we’re seeing, today. The women, though, like Philomela, have begun to reclaim their voices, reclaim their power. In Ovid, Philomela, “wove a clever fabric, working words / In red on a white ground to tell the tale / Of wickedness.” Though Philomela can’t physically speak, she can tell of Tereus’ “wickedness.” So, she weaves the red words into a narrative—her narrative. Philomela now controls her story—a heartbreaking and violent story—and one that Philomela alone can tell. Through her narrative, Philomela regains her voice. Her power. Her agency.

The  lines of the poem are marked by transformation. The sisters transform themselves into birds and escape from Tereus and his wrath. But that last image is one with which I struggle most. I want to look desperately upon it as the Sisters’ transcendence of earthly masculine oppression. I want to interpret their language as undefined by gender, power, oppression, metamorphosed into a birdsong. But they are marred by rage — by violence. I just don’t blame them. I recognize. I understand. At last, Tereus hears them, isn’t he? He finally understands because the language they speak is his. A line from the 2015 film Suffragette reminds me:  “We break windows, we burn things, because war’s the only language men listen to.”
The richness of the rhyme in this poem is indicative of its basis on an Italian piece, as are the musicality and continuity of the terms. The innovation on this piece lies in Sidney’s comparison of himself to Philomela as he explores sexual dynamics, voice, self-expression, and the English way of life of male stoicism. This is carried out through both phrases and rhythm.
Sidney establishes the temper right away: ‘The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth/Unto her rested sense an ideal waking…/Sings out her woes’. April is a month of juxtapositions: winter has ended and summer time is drawing close; negative rain falls alongside generative sunshine; lifestyle is beginning while a few ends. Further, Philomela’s rape functions juxtapositions, too- demise of the woman and delivery of the girl; give up of innocence and beginning of experience- as proven: ‘Her throat in tunes expresseth / What grief her breast oppresseth’. Acknowledging the horrible act that has led to this moment-‘For Tereus’ force on her chaste will winning’-Sidney then directly inverts the tale. The audience must now not experience pity for Philomela; rather, they must sense sorry for Sidney: ‘o Philomela truthful, o take some gladness, /That right here is juster motive of plaintful unhappiness’.

To start with commiserating with Philomela, Sidney then berates her for vocalizing her pain, while he himself cannot. Philomela, Sidney claims, at the least can explicit her unhappiness via track and accordingly purge herself of it, but he, as a person, should suffer in silence. Along with her song, he claims, ‘Thine earth now springs’, however as he can say not anything in his state of affairs, ‘mine fadeth’. He ends the first stanza via underscoring her emotional launch thru tune and his own emotional stress in silence: ‘Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth’. At this point, it will become clear that this poem isn’t only a retelling of the Philomela fantasy and a clever parody of a famous tune, but is also in element a grievance of the social mores dictating that a lady may express her emotions overtly even as a man may not. It also refers to the popular notion that positive songbirds sang their most stunning music at once before their demise, resulting from plunging their breast onto a thorn.
In the second stanza, Sidney maintains his diatribe in opposition to Philomela’s vocalization of her enjoy, lightly looking at that ‘unluckily, she has no other cause of discomfort / but Tereus’ love, on her with the aid of robust hand wroken, / in which she suffering, all her spirits languish; / full womanlike complains her will was damaged’. Indeed, Sidney nearly seems to be implying here that Philomela did not thoughts things as a whole lot as she claims, but as a substitute is utilizing her role as a woman to claim she has been wronged, consequently keeping her own innocence and chastity within the face of the act committed. In other phrases, she should revel in bodily love without social effects, something authorized to no man in polite society.
Sidney then continues on with his very own aspect of factors, claiming, ‘I, who daily yearning, /can’t should content me, /Have extra reason to lament me,/due to the fact that trying is extra woe than too much having’. These strains clearly monitor the difference among the sexes: ladies see sexuality as an exhausting duty pressured upon them, while guys see it as something desired, however rarely finished.
Sidney embraces the male angle: women are merciless torturers who tease guys with their appeal, but then protest whilst guys pursue them, unfairly exploiting the girl’s normally mentioned right to voice her feelings and causing men to go through in agonized silence at their cruel behaviour. with the aid of utilizing the classic Philomela myth, he shows that this type of conduct and those tensions between the sexes have been going on for the reason that beginnings of civilization and the tongue-in-cheek parody of a modern Italian love music allows him to explicit this fantastically vitriolic factor of view in a stylish and nonthreatening manner via a recognizable, exciting shape that lets in everything to seem harmless. He’s able to air his views thoroughly within the guise of a poetry-writing exercise. Sidney might also declare once more in the second stanza that Philomela has a voice and he has none, that ‘Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth; / Thy thorn without, my thorn my coronary heart invadeth’, however, the poem itself is his tune, and Philomela, an insignificant myth now dead and long past, has not anything more to mention on the problem. Sidney has consequently cleverly received his argument and had the final phrase.
In this poem, the speaker is using the artwork of rhetoric. This is an example of a courtly-love poem, in which the speaker (Sidney) is in love with a lady, whom he can never have. In this poem, Sidney evaluates himself by using alluding to classical delusion (Philomela). In doing so, he’s able to evaluate his state of affairs to that of hers. Despite the fact that she becomes raped and had her tongue cut out, the speaker says, ‘That here is juster cause of plaintful unhappiness’, which means that he has a better purpose to be sad than she does: ‘due to the fact that trying is more woe than too much having’. He is largely saying that it’s far worse to need someone and not get them than to have an excessive amount of somebody that you did not need. In short, he is trying to convince the reader that his scenario is worse than that of someone who has been raped and sick-fated to everlasting silence.
In ‘Philomela’, Sidney alludes to Philomela’s violent remedy by Tereus, however, that isn’t the primary subject matter of this paintings. In this poem, the focus is on the narrator being resentful of Philomela. This jealousy toward any such wretched mythological parent shows the intense loneliness experienced by using the narrator and the following sexist undertones.
In the first few traces of the poem, Philomela is known as a ‘nightingale’ and the narrator further attributes her more bird-like features, alluding to her escape from Tereus as an actual nightingale, showing prior know-how of the parable. An informed target audience might commonly see Philomela as a pitiful sufferer guarded over via a vicious Tereus. This isn’t always how the narrator sees the state of affairs in any respect. She or he does now not even deal with the horrors committed in opposition to Philomela.
The manner the poem is offered it does no longer even provide the slightest indication of the abuses suffered with the aid of Philomela on the arms of Tereus. The narrator sees Philomela’s sole source of ache to be Tereus’ over-ample love, of which the speaker is glaringly green with envy. The narrator makes this jealousy clean because they say that they’re ‘each day craving’ such attentions and that ‘looking is more woe than an excessive amount of having’. So, on this individual’s opinion, wanting love is greater painful than having too much because the case seems to be with Philomela and Tereus. Thus, it seems that the narrator is jealous of the lust, or love, that Philomela evokes in others. And this envy, in conjunction with the lack of affection, is inflicting the narrator excellent misery.

Questions and Andwers

Q. How does the poet convince the reader that his condition is worse than that of someone who has been raped and pushed into everlasting silence (his tongue has been cut off)
Ans. The speaker in this poem employs the art of rhetoric. This is an example of a courtly-loved poem, in which the speaker (Sidney) is in love with a woman he can never have. Sidney assesses himself in this poem by alluding to the ancient legend (Philomela). In doing so, he can relate his condition to hers. After being raped and having her tongue cut out, the speaker says, ” That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness”, suggesting he has a better reason to be depressed than she does: “since wanting is more woe than too much having”. He’s basically saying it’s worse wanting someone and not getting them, than having too much of something you didn’t want. In short, he tries to convince the reader that his condition is worse than that of someone who has been raped and pushed into everlasting silence (his tongue has been cut off)

Q. Discuss the character sketch of Philomela.
Ans. Refer to the summary above. 

Q. What do you know about The Philomela Myth ?
Ans. If you are not familiar with the story of Ovid, it is in his Metamorphoses, originally written in Latin dating from 8 CE. Tereus, married to Procne, rapes Philomela who was Procne’s sister. When Philomela Threates to expose him, he cuts her tongue out and locks her hostage. She can’t speak, but she learns to weave, so she weaves a tapestry that explaining her ordeal that she smuggles out to her sister. The tale is not happily finished, however. In reality, Procne and Philomela are murdering Procne’s only son and feeding him to Tereus, to exact their revenge. The women then run, and turn themselves into birds as they escape.


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