Beautiful must be the mountains whence ye come,
And bright in the fruitful valleys the streams wherefrom
Ye learn your song:
Where are those starry woods? O might I wander there,
Among the flowers, which in that heavenly air
Bloom the year long!.
Nay, barren are those mountains and spent the streams:
Our song is the voice of desire, that haunts our dreams,
A throe of the heart,
Whose pining visions dim, forbidden hopes profound,
No dying cadence, nor long sigh can sound,
For all our art.
Alone, aloud in the raptured ear of men
We pour our dark nocturnal secret; and then,
As night is withdrawn
From these sweet-springing meads and bursting boughs of May,
Dream, while the innumerable choir of day
Welcome the dawn.
Bridges (1844-1930) was a doctor and also Poet-Laureate of England from 1913-1930.
This poem refutes the traditional premise that a work of art is created by being inspired by beauty. It tells of the power of unsatisfied desire to move the nightingales to matchless song – a more telling commentary on the human condition than most nature poems.
The real bird itself is the Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) a song-bird and flycatcher found in Europe and South-West Asia and migrating in the winter to Africa.
The bird’s name means “night-songtress” but it is the male that sings to attract a mate and defend its territory.
Nightingales have often appeared in traditional lore and the arts—again, usually because of their song.
The poet John Keats thought of the bird as a carefree spirit, free to sing in “full-throated ease.”
In “Ode to a Nightingale,” one of the finest poems ever written, he wrote that he longed to:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget….