O Nightingale

O Nightingale

John Milton

O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy Spray
Warbl’st at eeve, when all the Woods are still,
Thou with fresh hope the Lovers heart dost fill,
While the jolly hours lead on propitious May,
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of Day,
First heard before the shallow Cuccoo’s bill
Portend success in love; O if Jove’s will
Have linkt that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude Bird of Hate
Foretell my hopeles doom in som Grove ny:
As thou from yeer to yeer hast sung too late
For my relief; yet hadst no reason why,
Whether the Muse, or Love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.

Literary Analysis

O Nightingale” is also known as Milton’s Sonnet 1. It presents a contrast between two birds, a nightingale and a cuckoo. The theme of the poem is the contrast and strife between love and hate, where love succeeds because it has more strength than hate. The “nightingale” in this poem is the subject. Its main idea suggests that love eventually prevails. The tone of the poem is paradoxical. The speaker in this poem is the poet himself. The speaker presents a contrast between love and hate, using the symbols of nightingale and cuckoo birds respectively.

Since the sounds of a nightingale are pleasing to the ears and musical in nature, these can give a feeling of hope to a dejected lover. The poem begins with “O Nightingale, that on yon bloomy Spray…. / Thou with fresh hope the lovers heart dost fill”. Here, the nightingale symbolizes love and success. The chirps of the nightingale are melodious and bring joy and feelings of success and love to those who walk by and hear the melodic sounds “While the jolly hours lead on propitious May,….” It gives the feeling of positivity, success, hope, emotional intensity and imaginative freedom to new love “Portend success in love…”

The cuckoo is the complete opposite of the nightingale. It is known as the hate bird, “Now timely sing, ere the rude Bird of Hate.” Its sounds and chirps are completely different from the nightingale, as the cuckoo is representing cuckoldry and jealousy.

The chirps of the cuckoo are just two-note sounds similar to that of a cuckoo clock. Its sounds are harsh. This is considered as an auditory imagery of the feelings of jealousy and hate. Those who hear these sounds end up feeling annoyed. This annoyance could trigger anger that is associated with hatred and hopelessness. Thus, the speaker proposes that the nightingale sing for him before the bird of hate foretells his fate, “Foretell my hopeles doom in som Grove ny”. According to the poet, this bird could be usually found chirping nearby whenever someone is facing hate issues or going through bad times.

The poet complains that the nightingale often sings too late for him: ‘As thou from yeer to yeer hast sung too late/ For my relief;” he is, however, ready to serve whatever the nightingale’s mate: love or muse, “Whether the Muse, or Love call thee his mate”. The word “muse” is alluded to the Greek goddess of poetry.

Structural Analysis

The poem has fourteen lines written in Italian or Petrarchan sonnet style. Its rhyme scheme is ABBAABBA-CDCDCD. It is written in the form of iambic pentameter (a line containing five iambs) which is rhythmic and regular: “O Nightingale that on yon bloomy Spray,/ Warbl’st at eve, when all the Woods are still”.

The poem contains poetic device enjambment (incomplete syntax at the end of successive lines) in several lines such as: “Portend success in love; O if Jove’s will / Have linkt that amorous power to thy soft lay”. There is only one end-stopped line, which occurs at the concluding line of the poem.

The poet has also used another literary device called hypotaxis. It is the subordination of one clause to another: “O Nightingale that on yon bloomy Spray, / Warbl’st at eve, when all the Woods are still.” Here, the first line focuses on the nightingale, while the following line gives further explanation about it.

This poem contains alliteration and assonance as well. Alliteration are in these words: “relief, reason”, “muse, mate”, them, their”. On the other hand, the following words contain assonance: “jolly, on”, “have, that”, “sing, bird”.

The diction of the poem contains some words of classical language such as “Thou with fresh hope the Lovers heart dost fill…/ As thou from yeer to yeer hast sung too late”.

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

This poem is all about success, hope and fulfillment in love and contains a message of hope and success in love for lovers. It has lines which can be used as love quotes such as:

Thou with fresh hope the Lovers heart dost fill,
While the jolly hours lead on propitious May

Since, the nightingale is symbolizing love and a ray of hope, lovers can call their female beloveds as “nightingale” and compare her to the nightingale’s beautiful qualities like its melodious voice that could be a symbol of desire, hope, passion and joy in anyone’s life. Lovers can dedicate this poem to their beloveds. The three best lines for lovers are:

“Thou with fresh hope the Lovers heart dost fill,
While the jolly hours lead on propitious May,
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of Day”.

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