“E. V.”, “The Nightingale’s Complaint”

“E. V.”

“The Nightingale’s Complaint”


Why, my mournful warbler, why
Dost waste the tedious day
With many a tear, and many a sigh,
And many a plaintive lay?

Dost thou the captive state bewail                                          5
In which thou’rt doom’d to dwell?
No more to visit hill or dale,
Or woods or shaded dell?

To which my bird, my fav’rite bird,
With sweet persuasion sung;                                            10
Nor sweeter numbers e’er were heard
From Linley’s tuneful tongue:

“Is there not cause for tears and sighs,
“For loss of sacred home?
“For loss of freedom of the skies                                              15
“Giv’n us at large to roam?

“Is there not cause for tears and sighs,
“When, in some distant grove,
“Perhaps my Philomela dies
“In absence from her love?                                                 20

“Oft, after Vespers, would repair
“The woods and groves among,
“The matron, and her virgin care,
“And listen to my song.

“The hermit, too, would oft attend                                            25
“Unseen by mortal eye;
“Awhile his beads, his pray’rs suspend,
“And praise my melody.

“Oft wou’d some hapless shepherd swain
“Beneath the shade recline;                                                30
“Of love’s vicissitudes complain,
“And mingle woes with mine.

“What is the fretted roof to me,
“Or spacious splendid dome,
“Compar’d to sweet simplicity,                                                     35
“Compar’d to humbler home?

“Some other birds of brighter dyes,
“Some bird of happier grace,
“May boast, perhaps, might proudly prize
“This gay, distinguish’d place.                                               40

“Vain of his plumage, vain of dress,
“Vain of his gaudy cage;
“But sure the graces ne’er will bless,
“Nor will his note engage.

“Ne’er was the servile votive song                                                45
“To harmony ally’d;
“Nor e’er shall slav’ry guide my tongue;”
He said, he bow’d and dy’d.


Title Nightingale The nightingale is used frequently in poetry. Its song is emphasized and usually linked to the art involved in the creation of poetry.

7 dale A valley.

8 dell A deep natural hollow or vale of no great extent, the sides usually clothed with trees or foliage (OED).

12 Linley’s tuneful tongue Elizabeth Ann Linley (1754-1792) was the daughter of the famous musician Thomas Linley and belonged to a musically-gifted family. Elizabeth Ann was known for her singing voice and her career was at its height during the mid 1770s.

19 Philomela A poetic term for nightingale.

21 Vespers The Evening Prayer or Evensong; this prayer was typically said around sunset.

29 swain A man, a youth, a boy (OED).

Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 45 (London, 1775), p. 492.

Edited by Shanna Cooper