Ode to the nightingale

Ode to the nightingale

It’s not always easy to speak with poetry. One doesn’t even get the reward when living. At the age of 43, when Mary Darby Robinson died, she was a poor woman and had been struggling her illness.

Mary Robinson
Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

About the poet

Mary Darby Robinson was probably born on November 27 1757. Probably, since her birth year is not clear. She was born as the daughter of Hester and John Darby. Her father was a naval officer. When Robinson was still a child, her father left her mother. He made clear that he would do anything to stop his former wife from having a steady income to support her and the other children. This income consisted of the money she made running a small school for girls. Darby forced the school to close.

Her mother thought it was a good idea for her daughter to marry Thomas Robinson, who studied to become an accountant. Robinson felt nothing for this idea. She changed her mind after she seen him take care of her brothers and sisters, when she was ill. She should have listened better to herself, because Robinson turned out the be rather fraudulent. A so-called inheritance did not exist and he lead a rather flamboyant lifestyle. This included various mistresses. He did nothing to hide these sexual escapades from his wife.

The marriage of Robinson was a fiasco. At one point the couple had to fled to Wales, when Thomas could not pay his debts anymore. This came at the moment when his wife was pregnant with their daughter Mary Elizabeth.

Her husband was finally captured and send to prison, where she would accompany him. She met the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, here and she became the sponsor for the first poetry book that Robinson would publish: Captivity. Inspired by what she had gone through.

After the release of Thomas, she opened a theatre, where she would also join in plays. This got the attention of the Prince of Wales, who later became George IV. He offered her twenty pounds to become his mistress. When she accepted, this opened new doors in London and also made it possible to publish more of her work. But there was also a downside. She was the mistress of several influence people of that time, but was struggling with health issues. In 1783 she became partially paralysed. She died on December 26 1800 in poverty.


Ode to the nightingale


By Mary Darby Robinson

Ode to the nightingale

 SWEET BIRD OF SORROW! ­why complain
In such soft melody of Song,
That ECHO, am’rous of thy Strain,
The ling’ring cadence doth prolong?
Ah! tell me, tell me, why,
Thy dulcet Notes ascend the sky.
Or on the filmy vapours glide
Along the misty moutain’s side?
And wherefore dost Thou love to dwell,
In the dark wood and moss-grown cell,
Beside the willow-margin’d stream­
Why dost Thou court wan Cynthia’s beam?
Sweet Songstress­if thy wayward fate
Hath robb’d Thee of thy bosom’s mate,
Oh, think not thy heart-piercing moan
Evap’rates on the breezy air,
Or that the plaintive Song of Care
Steals from THY Widow’d Breast alone.
Oft have I heard thy mournful Tale,
On the high Cliff, that o’er the Vale
Hangs its dark brow, whose awful shade
Spreads a deep gloom along the glade:
Led by its sound, I’ve wander’d far,
Till crimson evening’s flaming Star
On Heav’n’s vast dome refulgent hung,
And round ethereal vapours flung;
And oft I’ve sought th’HYGEIAN MAID,
In rosy dimply smiles array’d,
Till forc’d with every HOPE to part,
Resistless Pain subdued my Heart.

Oh then, far o’er the restless deep
Forlorn my poignant pangs I bore,
Alone in foreign realms to weep,
Where ENVY’s voice could taunt no more.
I hop’d, by mingling with the gay,
To snatch the veil of Grief away;
To break Affliction’s pond’rous chain;
VAIN was the Hope­in vain I sought
The placid hour of careless thought,
Where Fashion wing’d her light career,
And sportive Pleasure danc’d along,
Oft have I shunn’d the blithsome throng,
To hide th’involuntary tear,
For e’en where rapt’rous transports glow,
From the full Heart the conscious tear will flow,
When to my downy couch remov’d,
FANCY recall’d my wearied mind
To scenes of FRIENDSHIP left behind,
Scenes still regretted, still belov’d!
Ah, then I felt the pangs of Grief,
Grasp my warm Heart, and mock relief;
My burning lids Sleep’s balm defied,
And on my fev’rish lip imperfect murmurs died.

Restless and sad­I sought once more
A calm retreat on BRITAIN’s shore;
Deceitful HOPE, e’en there I found
That soothing FRIENDSHIP’s specious name
Was but a short-liv’d empty sound,
And LOVE a false delusive flame.

Then come, Sweet BIRD, and with thy strain,
Steal from my breast the thorn of pain;
Blest solace of my lonely hours,
In craggy caves and silent bow’rs,
When HAPPY Mortals seek repose,
By Night’s pale lamp we’ll chaunt our woes,
And, as her chilling tears diffuse
O’er the white thorn their silv’ry dews,
I’ll with the lucid boughts entwine
A weeping Wreath, which round my Head
Shall by the waning Cresent shine,
And light us to our leafy bed,­
But ah! nor leafy beds nor bow’rs
Fring’d with soft MAY’s enamell’d flow’rs,
Nor pearly leaves, nor Cynthia’s beams,
Nor smiling Pleasure’s shad’wy dreams,
Sweet BIRD, not e’en THY melting Strains
Can calm the Heart, where TYRANT SORROW REIGNS.


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