No cloud, no relique of the sunken day Distinguishes the West, no long thin slip Of sullen Light, no obscure trembling hues. Come, we will rest on this old mossy Bridge! You see the glimmer of the stream beneath, But hear no murmuring: it flows silently O'er its soft bed of verdure. All is still, A balmy night! and tho' the stars be dim, Yet let us think upon the vernal showers That gladden the green earth, and we shall find A pleasure in the dimness of the stars. And hark! the Nightingale begins its song, "Most musical, most melancholy" (1) Bird! A melancholy Bird? O idle thought! In nature there is nothing melancholy. —But some night-wandering Man, whose heart was pierc'd With the remembrance of a grievous wrong, Or slow distemper or neglected love, (And so, poor Wretch! fill'd all things with himself And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale Of his own sorrows) he and such as he First nam'd these notes a melancholy strain; And many a poet echoes the conceit, Poet, who hath been building up the rhyme When he had better far have stretch'd his limbs Beside a brook in mossy forest-dell By sun or moonlight, to the influxes Of shapes and sounds and shifting elements Surrendering his whole spirit, of his song And of his fame forgetful! so his fame Should share in nature's immortality, A venerable thing! and so his song Should make all nature lovelier, and itself Be lov'd, like nature!—But 'twill not be so; And youths and maidens most poetical Who lose the deep'ning twilights of the spring In ball-rooms and hot theatres, they still Full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs O'er Philomela's pity-pleading strains. My Friend, and my Friend's Sister! we have learnt A different lore: we may not thus profane Nature's sweet voices always full of love And joyance! 'Tis the merry Nightingale That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates With fast thick warble his delicious notes, As he were fearful, that an April night Would be too short for him to utter forth His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul Of all its music! And I know a grove Of large extent, hard by a castle huge Which the great lord inhabits not: and so This grove is wild with tangling underwood, And the trim walks are broken up, and grass, Thin grass and king-cups grow within the paths. But never elsewhere in one place I knew So many Nightingales: and far and near In wood and thicket over the wide grove They answer and provoke each other's songs— With skirmish and capricious passagings, And murmurs musical and swift jug jug And one low piping sound more sweet than all— Stirring the air with such an harmony, That should you close your eyes, you might almost Forget it was not day! On moonlight bushes, Whose dewy leafits are but half disclos'd, You may perchance behold them on the twigs, Their bright, bright eyes, their eyes both bright and full, Glistning, while many a glow-worm in the shade Lights up her love-torch. A most gentle maid Who dwelleth in her hospitable home Hard by the Castle, and at latest eve, (Even like a Lady vow'd and dedicate To something more than nature in the grove) Glides thro' the pathways; she knows all their notes, 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 awaken'd earth and sky With one sensation, and those wakeful Birds Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy, As if one quick and sudden Gale had swept An hundred airy harps! And she hath watch'd Many a Nightingale perch giddily On blosmy twig still swinging from the breeze, And to that motion tune his wanton song, Like tipsy Joy that reels with tossing head. 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! 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, And bid us listen! And I deem it wise To make him Nature's playmate. 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) I hurried with him to our orchard plot, And he beholds the moon, and hush'd at once Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently, While his fair eyes that swam with undropt tears Did glitter in the yellow moon-beam! Well— 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.
Footnote (1): "Most musical, most melancholy." This passage from John Milton possesses an excellence far superior to that of mere description: it is spoken in the character of the melancholy Man, and has therefore a dramatic propriety. The Author makes this remark, to rescue himself from the charge of having alluded with levity to a line in Milton: a charge than which none could be more painful to him, except perhaps that of having ridiculed his Bible.