The Nightingale: A Conversational Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

It is said that Coleridge's greatest achievement was William Wordsworth. There is some truth to this. But he was also a great poet in his own right. In Lyrical Ballads he and Wordsworth changed English sensibilities (and American) completely. While Wordsworth was the greater poet, Coleridge was the greater philosopher. It is Coleridge's insights as a critic which encapsulates English Romanticism.

In this poem published in 1798, he not only conveys a new style of sensualness but also critiques the literarati before him. It is a truly Literary poem in that it is very aware of the literature that came prior. 

The Nightingale opens with Colerdge painting a picture of a nighttime scene with friends. They sit on a "mossy bridge," where they will think on nature. Then, almost on cue, "the Nightingale begins its song." This bird causes him to reflect on the writers of yore. Men who wrote that the nightingale's song was a melancholy one. To which Coleridge replies "A melancholy bird? Oh idle thought!"

He goes on to convey a completely different way to approach our experience of knowledge, learning, nature and literature. 

If you have ever wanted to truly experience the grandeur of nature and man in nature, this is a good poem to get you started.


The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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 though 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' bird!

A melancholy bird? Oh! idle thought!

In Nature there is nothing melancholy.

But some night-wandering man whose heart was pierced

With the remembrance of a grievous wrong,

Or slow distemper, or neglected love,

(And so, poor wretch! filled all things with himself,

And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale

Of his own sorrow) he, and such as he,

First named these notes a melancholy strain.