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The story of the Nightingale and the Glow-worm as related in the poem carries a lovely lesson for mankind. Every object of nature, living or non-living, is useful in its own way. For the world to be happy and prosperous, one must learn to coexist with others in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding.
About the Poet
William Cowper (1731-1800) was born in Hertfordshire and educated at Westminster School where Warren Hastings was his contemporary. He was an expert in giving expression to the idea of the healing power of nature. He is called Nature’s poet. He was a very good letter writer too.
The theme of this poem is the mutual respect that all creatures must have for each other, as exemplified through the tale of the nightingale and the glow-worm.
Line 1 – 12
A nightingale, that all day long Had cheered the village with his song, Nor yet at eve his note suspended. Nor yet when even tide was ended Began to feel as well he might, The keen demands of appetite; When, looking eagerly around, He spied far off, upon the ground, A something shining in the dark, And knew the glow-worm by his spark: So, stooping down from hawthorn top, He thought to put him in his crop.
A nightingale had cheered the village all day with his song, and had not stopped singing even when evening fell or the tide ended. Finally, he began to feel that he might as well stop because he felt hungry. Eagerly looking around, he noticed something shining in the dark far away on the ground. He realised it was the glow-worm by its spark. So, he flew down from hawthorn top to grab the glow-worm and eat it.
Line 13 – 26
The worm, aware of his intent, Harangued him thus, right eloquent "Did you admire my lamp," quoth he, "As much as I your minstrelsy, You would abhor to do me wrong, As much as I to spoil your song; For 'twas the self-same power divine, Taught you to sing, and me to shine; That you with music, I with light. Might beautify and cheer the night." The songster heard his short oration. And warbling out his approbation Released him, as my story tells, And found a supper somewhere else.
The worm was aware of the nightingale’s intentions and thus delivered an eloquent lecture. He told the nightingale that if he admired his glow as much as the glow-worm admired his singing, then he would hate to do him wrong and eat him, as much as he would hate to spoil the nightingale’s song. He continues that this is because it was the very same divine power that taught the nightingale to sing and the glow-worm to shine, so they might beautify and cheer the night with their music and light. The songster nightingale heard his short speech and singing out his approval released the glow-worm and found supper somewhere else, just as the poet’s story tells us.