Compare Charlotte Smith: "To a Nightingale" and Coleridge: "The Nightingale, A Conversation Poem"

Authors Avatar

Compare Charlotte Smith: “To a Nightingale” and Coleridge: “The Nightingale, A Conversation Poem”

        Both Charlotte Smith’s ‘To a Nightingale’ and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem’ are both written in iambic pentameter, using a set strict rhythm in order to convey their message. However, in their view of the nightingale itself, they differ. Smith presents it as a ‘poor melancholy bird’, whereas Coleridge claims that it is poets who ‘echo this conceit,’ and that ‘in nature there is nothing melancholy’ but man, who makes his own misery, and imagines that everything else echoes it. He ‘filled all things with himself/ And made all gentle sounds tell back the tale/ Of his own sorrow.’ Coleridge actually seems to reject the whole purpose of Smith’s poem.

        Coleridge contrasts nature and society, pointing out the stark difference between the ‘ball rooms and hot theatres’ and the beauty and purity of nature. Charlotte Smith, on the other hand, stays largely with the natural world. Her only concession to the more cultural is the reference to the figure of poet, who she allows to give meaning to ‘the little sounds that swell thy little breast.’ She attributes to them ‘musing fancy’, suggesting that the poet is in fact nothing but a dreamer, lending nothing but nonsense to nature, placing her own position in a somewhat doubtful place. Indeed, Coleridge also undermines the position and role of poet, claiming that the poet ‘had better far have stretched his limbs’ than write.

Coleridge’s version of the nightingale is a clear representation of the dreaming and fancy of poets: he speaks of a ‘castle huge’ and decidedly romantic language: ‘moonlight bushes/ Whose dewy leaflets are but half disclosed.’ Smith, on the other hand, uses the language of sensibility, as was common in women poets of the time. She is concerned to the most part with the feelings and emotions, and does not stray into realms of fantasy and decadence and power as Coleridge is wont to do. Instead, she maintains her stance that she, as the poetess, suffers the worse of any creature: ‘Ah, songstress sad! that such my lot might be,/to sigh and sing at liberty-like thee!’

Join now!

The alliteration of the ‘s’ in these two lines emphasise her meaning, the softer sound reminding us of peace and calm and quiet. She uses this soft fricative alliteration in other parts of her poem: ‘from what sad cause can such sweet sorrow flow.’ None of her alliteration is plosive.

The structure of her poem is far more rigid, fitting the Shakespearean sonnet perfectly, whereas Coleridge does not follow a set rhyme scheme and occasionally deviates from the iambic pentameter where it suits his purpose, often taking the number of syllables in the line as more of a guideline than an ...

This is a preview of the whole essay