Nightingales – Summary, Analysis and Model Question Answers

Summary of the Poem

Nightingales, written by Robert Bridges, is a remarkable poem. The background of this poem is a great Greek legend. According to the legend, Princess of Athens Philomela was seduced by her brother-in-law. He tried to kill her but benevolent God turned her into a nightingale. From that day nightingales sing song of sadness. The poem is divided into two parts. The whole poem is made of three stanzas. Each stanza consist of six lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is aab, ccb. The first stanza is in the voice of a typical romantic person who believes that nightingales belong to some heavenly place and their song expresses their joy and cheerfulness. The second part is in the voice of nightingales. They tell the poet the sadness hidden behind their song.

Poet believes that nightingales must come from a place surrounded by beautiful mountains, fertile valleys and streams. He believes that they must have learnt their song form all these beautiful natural objects. They must be living in a forest where stars twinkle all the night. He wants to visit all those places where flowers bloom throughout the year, the living place of nightingales. In the second stanza, nightingales tell the poet the whole truth. They tell the poet that they do not live in a place surrounded by beautiful mountains or streams. They live in a place surrounded by barren mountains and dry streams. Our song expresses our unsatisfied desires and frustrations. But people believe that they sing out of joy. Our unfulfilled dreams fill their heart with terrible pain. Their song mainly arises from their forbidden hopes and unfulfilled dreams their songs are not able to convey the agony of their heart to the world. So their grief is endless. They tell the poet that throughout the night they keep on singing the dark secret of their life. Men feel that they sing out of joy. When the night come to an end and darkness disappears from fragrant meadows, a large number of birds wake up and start twittering. By their sweet sounds, birds welcome the day. But at that time, nightingales stop singing. Morning is beginning for other birds but it is end for them. They go to sleep and are lost in their silent dreams. By their fate they are bound to this condition. What the poet is trying to say here is that the art of nightingales is not able to express their feelings. The total impression of the poem is anti-romantic.

Explain with Reference to the Context

Stanza 1

Beautiful must be mountains whence ye come,

And bright in the fruitful valleys the streams, wherefrom ye learn your song

Where are those starry wood? O might I wonder there, Among the flowers, which in that heavenly air Bloom the year long!

Reference to the Context

The lines quoted above have been taken from Robert Bridges’ poem, “Nightingales”. As the title reveals, the poem is about nightingales and the sad reality of their sweet song. Like everyone, the poet believes that the songs of nightingales are expression of their joy and happiness. But soon his belief is shattered when nightingales tell him their sad story. Nightingales tell the poet that their song signifies not the happiness of their heart but the agony of their unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams. The poem is divided into three six lines stanzas rhyming aab. ccb.

Explanation

The poet addresses the nightingales in this stanza. He hears the sweet songs of nightingales. He enchanted by the sweetness of their song. Poet believes that nightingales must come from a place surrounded by beautiful mountains, fertile valleys and streams. He believes that they must have learnt their song from all these natural objects. They must be living in a forest where stars twinkle all the night. He wants to visit all those places where flowers bloom throughout the year. The first stanza is in the voice of a typical romantic person who believes that the nightingales belong to a wonderland, the land of happiness and joy.

Stanza 2

“Nay, barren are those mountains and spent the streams:

Our song is the voice of desire, that hunts our dreams, A throe of the heart,

Whose pinning vision dim, for bidden hopes profound,

No dying cadence nor long sigh can sound, For all our art.”

Reference to the Context

The lines quoted above have been taken from the poem, “Nightingales” written by Robert Bridges. As the title indicates, the poem is about nightingales and the sad reality of their sweet song. Like everyone, the poet believes that the song of nightingales is filled with joy and happiness. But soon his belief is shattered when nightingales tell him their sad reality. Nightingales tell the poet that their song signifies not the happiness of their heart but the agony of their unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams.

Explanation

In these lines, nightingales give voice to their sad thoughts. They say that contrary to poet’s belief that they live amidst beautiful surroundings, they live in a place surrounded by barren mountains and dry streams. Their song expresses their unsatisfied desires and frustrated dreams. Their unfulfilled dreams fill their heart with terrible pain. Their songs mainly arise from their forbidden hopes and unfulfilled dreams. Their songs are not able to convey the agony of their heart to the world. So their grief is endless.

Stanza 3

“Alone, aloud in the ruptured ear of men We pour our dark nocturnal secret, and then.

As night is withdrawn

Form these sweet-springing meads and bursting boughs of May, Dream, while the innumerable choir of day Welcome the dawn”.

Reference to the Context

The lines quoted above have been taken from Robert Bridges’ poem “Nightingales”. As the title indicates the poem is about nightingales and the sad reality of their sweet song. The poem is divided into three stanzas of six lines each rhyming aab, ccb. Like everyone the poet believes that the song of nightingales is full of joy and happiness. But soon his belief is shattered when nightingales tell him their grief hidden behind their song. Nightingales tell him that their song signifies not the happiness of their heart but agony of their unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams.

Explanation

These lines are uttered by nightingales. Nightingales tell the poet the dark reality of their pain hidden behind their sweet song. They tell the poet that throughout the night they keep on singing the dark secret of their life. Men feel that they sing out of joy. When the night come to an end and darkness disappears from the fragrant meadows, a large number of birds wake up and start chirping. By their sweet sounds birds welcome the day. But at that time nightingales stop singing. Morning is beginning for other birds but it is end for them. They go to sleep and are lost in their dark gloomy dreams. By their fate they are bound to this condition. What the poet is here trying to say is that the art of nightingales is unable to express their feeling.

Question-Answer (Short type)

Q. 1. Mark the rhyme scheme of the first stanza. Is this pattern followed in the remaining two stanzas? What is the mood of the first stanza?

Ans.:- The rhyme scheme of the first stanza is aab, ccb. The remaining two stanzas will also follow the same pattern. The first stanza is in the voice of a typical romantic person who believes that nightingales belong to a wonder land, the land of happiness and contentment. Poet likes the sweet song of the nightingales. He believes that nightingales must come from a place surrounded by bright and fruitful valleys, beautiful mountains and streams. He says that nightingales must learn their sweet songs from all these beautiful natural objects. He wants to visit all those beautiful places in the forest where stars twinkle all the night and flowers bloom the whole year. The mood of the first stanza is that of wonder and happiness.

Q.2:- What is the assumption made in the first stanza about the source of the nightingale’s song.

Ans.:- The poet assumes that nightingales come from a place surrounded by beautiful mountains, fertile valleys and streams. Nightingales learn their song from all these charming natural objects. He assumes that nightingales must be living at some place in the forest where stars shine for the whole night and flowers bloom for the whole year. He wants to visit all those places where nightingales live. His assumption makes the living place of nightingales a dreamy other-world land where there is no sorrow but happiness.

Q. 3:- What is the nightingales’ own account of the mountains and streams in their world?

Ans.:- Poet believes that nightingales must come from a place surrounded by beautiful mountains, fruitful valleys and streams. But nightingales’ own account of the mountains and streams is different from the poet’s belief. Nightingales tell the poet the reality of the place where they live. They tell the poet that they live in a place which is surrounded by barren mountains and dry streams. So there is nothing beautiful about the place in which they live.

Q.4.:- Who form the ‘innumerable choir of day’?

Ans.:- As the night withdraw, and sun rises, the nightingales, who have been singing all night, stop singing. At the dawn of the day, thousands of birds of different types wakeup and start chirping. By their sweet sound birds welcome the new day. But for nightingales it is the end of day. They stop singing and go in the lap of their silent dreams. Poet calls the chirping of birds the ‘innumerable choir of day’.

Q.5.:- Explain the phrases: ‘dark nocturnal secret’ and ‘bursting of May’.

Ans.:- The phrases: ‘dark nocturnal secret’ and ‘bursting of May’ have been taken from the last stanza of the poem, ‘Nightingales’. These phrases express the agony of nightingales. ‘Dark nocturnal secret’ means the deep secret of the nightingales which they sing throughout the night. They utter the secret of their heart but men are unable to understand their pain. For men, their songs are the songs of happiness. The phrase bursting boughs means the branches of trees in full bloom in May. Both these phrases express the idea that the songs of nightingales are not cheerful but sad ones.

Q.6.:- Where does the dramatic note in the poem lie?

Ans.:- The dramatic note in the poem lies in the fact that the songs of the nightingales are not expression of their joy but of their pain, hidden in their heart. When the poem begins, poet believes that nightingales must come from a place which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and fruitful valleys. But soon his belief proves wrong when he meets nightingales. They tell him the truth. They tell him they live in a place which is surrounded by barren mountains and dead streams. They also tell the poet that they sing not out of joy but out of pain. This is the dramatic note in the poem.

Essay type Questions

Q.1. :- Trace the analogy between the theme of the poem and the classical legend of the nightingales.

Ans.:- The poem, ‘Nightingales’, is based on a Greek legend. It is a legend about two sisters named Procne and Philomela. They were the daughters of the king of Athens. Procne was married to Tereus. However, Tereus was in love with Philomela. Tereus seduced Philomela by lying that Procne was dead. Tereus cut off Philomela’s tongue and imprisoned her. But she managed to weave a message into a robe for her sister. Procne helped her sister to escape from prison. Procne is now filled with a feeling of vengeance. In a fit of rage, she killed her son and cooked it for Tereus to eat. He discovered this truth later and he chased the sisters with an axe in his hand but benevolent God turned the three into birds. Tereus became a hoopoe, Procne a swallow and Philomela a nightingale. Since then nightingales have been singing the songs of pain and sorrow. There is a great analogy between the theme of the poem and the classical legend of the nightingales. The poem nightingales shattered the belief of the poet that nightingale’s songs are full of joy and cheerfulness. The poem shatters the belief of the poet that their songs are full of joy and contentment. He believes that nightingales must come from a place which is surrounded by beautiful natural objects like fruitful valleys, beautiful mountains and streams. They must be living in a forest where stars twinkle all the night. Poet is so much impressed by the life of nightingales that he wants to visit all those places where they live. But soon his belief proves wrong. Nightingales tells the poet that they do not live amidst beautiful surroundings but amidst barren mountains. By singing, they try to convey the deep pain hidden in their heart. But men are unable to understand all this. Their songs are unable to express their pain. By their songs they just want to convey the pain of their unfulfilled desires and shattered dreams.

Q.2. What do you think is the desire of which nightingales sing?

Ans.: The poem ‘Nightingales’ presents anti-romantic view of nightingales’ song. As the title indicates, it is a poem about nightingales. The poet talks about the songs sung by nightingales. Like every other person poet believes that they sing the melodious song out of joy. He believes that nightingales must be living among the mountains surrounded by fruitful valleys and beautiful streams. The poet wishes to visit all those places. But the poet learns about the bitter reality later when they tell him that they do not sing out of joy but out of pain of their unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams. To know about nightingales’ desire of which they sing we have to go back to the story of the two sisters named Procne and Philomela. They were daughters of the king of Athens. Procne had married Tereus. However he was in love with Philomela. He seduced her by lying that Procne was dead. He also cut off Philomela’s tongue and imprisoned her. But she managed to give this message to her sister by wearing it into a robe. Procne helped her sister to escape from prison. Procne now wanted to take revenge. In an angry mood she killed her son and cooked it for her husband. After discovering the reality, he chased both sisters with an axe but benevolent God changed them all in birds. Tereus became a hoopoe, Procne a swallow, and Philomela a nightingale. Since then nightingales have been singing songs of sadness. They sing of their shattered dreams and unfulfilled desires. They desired to lead a life of happiness and joy. They desired to punish the guilty person who had done wrong to them. But their desire is still unfulfilled.

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