The Nightingale Poem by Sir Philip Sydney Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “The Nightingale” was written by Sir Philip Sydney. The poem is a song of the Stella series. It was published in the 1598 edition of Arcadia. Through this poem, the poet Sir Philip Sydney alludes to the Greek mythology of Philomela. The poet talks about the speaker’s heart ache. In the poem, the speaker imagines Philomela as a nightingale lamenting her rape at the beginning of Spring. But, actually, female nightingales have no song by nature. 

About the Poet:

Sir Philip Sydney is an English Poet, Courtier and Scholar.  He is one of the best known poets of the Elizabethan era. His writing style is passionate and intricate. He through his works perfectly combined the archaic language with modern 16th century English. He has written 108 love sonnets, a prose piece of pastoral romance. Astrophel and Stella (1595), The Defence of Poesy (1595), and The Arcadia (1593).


The poet Sir Philip Sydney has written the poem “The Nightingale” in the form of a lyric poem. It has two stanzas. Each stanza consists of twelve lines. 


The poet Sir Philip Sydney has used iambic pentameter and iambic trimeter alternatively in the poem “The Nightingale”.

Greek Mythology:

Ovids Metamorphosis tells the story of Philomela who was raped by her sister’s husband Tereus. In order to make her silent, Tereus cuts off the tongue of Philomela. But, Philomela started to weave out her pain in the form of tapestry. Thus, in this way Philomela informed her pain to her sister Procne. Both the sisters decide to take revenge on Tereus. So, they killed Tereus’ son. Later, the sisters tried to escape. But Tereus started following him. In the end God turned all the three into birds. Procne into a swallow, Philomela into a nightingale, and Tereus into a hoopoe. 

Poem Analysis:

Lines 1-5:

The nightingale, as soon as April bringeth

Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,

While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,

Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making,

And mournfully bewailing,

The poem “The Nightingale” starts with a reference to Spring Season. The poet has personified the bird in this stanza. The chillness makes her senses get numb. While spring helps her to get back her senses. The term “rested sense” talks about the nightingale that sleeps during the winter time. Similar to the nightingale, the Earth also enjoys the end of the winter season. The term “new clothing” refers to the vegetation period. The poet feels that nature sings the pain of the bird.

The poet is actually alluding to the character named Philomela who turned into a nightingale by Olympian Gods. So, the poet is talking about the pain of Philomela. She had no other way but to express her pain through songs. Those songs denote the pain in the life of Philomela.

Lines 6- 8:

Her throat in tunes expresseth

What grief her breast oppresseth

For Tereus’ force on her chaste will prevailing.

The songs of the nightingale (Philomela) are sad in nature. The songs express her grief. The poet Sir Philip Sydney is talking about the rape incident that happened to Philomela by her sister’s husband named “Tereus”. She took revenge on him. But she turned into a nightingale. Yet she couldn’t forget the incident.

Lines 9- 12:

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,

That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:

Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;

Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

The poet starts to address Philomela in the last four lines of the first stanza. He says to her to feel happy as his situation is more painful than hers. He says even Philomela who turned into a nightingale had a chance to be happy in the spring. Yet, his situation is even worse. Philomela took revenge on the person who caused her pain. But it is impossible for the speaker.

Lines 13-16:

Alas, she hath no other cause of anguish

But Tereus’ love, on her by strong hand wroken,

Wherein she suffering, all her spirits languish;

Full womanlike complains her will was broken.

Now the speaker starts to compare her pain with hers. The speaker says that the lustful love for her body is the main and oy cause of anguish. Tereus’ love for her body made her suffer both physically and mentally. It resulted in her suffering. Philomela’s will got broken into pieces when no one was ready to listen to her complaints.

Lines 17-20:

But I, who daily craving,

Cannot have to content me,

Have more cause to lament me,

Since wanting is more woe than too much having.

In contrast the speaker is craving for love. His lonely life makes him lament. The speaker feels that craving for love is more painful than having it too much. So, the speaker feels his situation is worse than Philomela.

Lines 21-24:

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,

That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:

Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;

Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

Through these last four lines of the stanza he is emphasising the pain of me. He asks Philomela to feel grateful as his situation is more painful than hers. He says, as Philomela turned into a nightingale she has the chance of seeing spring. Whereas, the speaker doesn’t have such hope in life. The speaker says he cannot get rid of the pain caused by the “thorn” of love, whereas Philomela started to get rid of her pain through her melancholy songs.