Sunday, September 27, 2009

TC: The Nightingale


crop from the original manuscript of 'Ode to a Nightingale' in John Keats's handwriting


It was dark in the covert. From the unseen underwoods came a trill. My friend who had taken me walking in this green Somerset lane paused to listen.

Calm-throated, then rising, a quick buoyant spiral of notes, keen, sweetly piercing. A few seconds and it was over.

"Have you ever heard a nightingale?" my friend asked. This was May 1965 or so.

I hadn't. I was, what, twenty-four, twenty-five?

In the spring of 1819 Keats was twenty-three. He had not far to go.

Coleridge also heard the nightingale in Highgate, early, that forward spring.

The reclusive night-wandering bird, pulled toward the poets' gardens beneath a waxing moon.

Sorrows, mysteries, businesses and sillinesses: human things played out to the backdrop of a deeply earth-tuned melody.

And then, forever, the brevity of the northern summer nights.


Ode to the Nightingale: holograph draft: John Keats, 1819

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos): illustration in Naturgeschichte der Vogel, J. F. Naumann, 1905

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