To the Nightingale

To the Nightingale

Some use a different title for this poem written by John Milton. Some refer to this poem as O Nightingale. That’s because Milton used the title Sonnet 1 for this poem. In this poem, Milton shows us the contrast between two birds.


The Nightingale and the cuckoo are the birds that are metaphors for love and hate. Eventually, love will conquer over hate. Milton shows us that there is such a thing as true love. It may not be in reach at the moment when you want it the most. It can be, once you are opening your heart to the right person.

The nightingale is well-known for its beautiful singing. Still, there seems to be something sad about this lonely bird that sings – mostly on Summer nights. The cuckoo is the opposite of this bird and it represents hate. Milton even introduces this bird as “The rude bird of hate.” The sounds of this bird are the opposite of that of a nightingale. According to the poet, this bird represents anything but the true love that the nightingale searches for. Unfortunately, this nightingale sings too late for the poet.


To the Nightingale


To the Nightingale

O, Nightingale! that on yon bloomy spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hope the lover’s 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 cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love; O, if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sang too late
For my relief, yet hadst no reason why:
Whether the Muse, or Love, call thee his mate,
Both of them I serve, and of their train am I.

John Milton


Milton wasn’t the only one to write about the nightingale. So did Mary Darby Robinson in her poem Ode to the nightingale.

Your favourite bird

Question for you: What is your favourite bird and why?

To the Nightingale
Article Name
To the Nightingale
Read John Milton's poem about two birds that are metaphors for love and hate.
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs

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