“A Poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness, and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.”
The nightingale is an elusive bird and perhaps then it’s no surprise that finding out about him* was not as easy as with some of the other birds we’ve looked at. He is rarely seen and was described in my pocket book of birds as an “anonymous brown bird”. This is not a bird who uses his looks to stand out and attract mates.
No, he uses her voice. His song is a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match and whilst he is most known for night singing, he does sing during the day as well. It is possible that his name, which means night songstress, has come about because few other birds sing at night and thus he can be better heard.
Symbolically this crossing between night and day is interesting. As we’ve seen with the owl, the night is about the unconscious and the unseen but the nightingale exists comfortably in both the day and the night, the light and the dark. Our nightingale appears to be perched on the moon suggesting that his journey into the night is one that is on his terms and one which he is controlling rather than getting lost to the mystery and unknown. He moves easily between different levels of consciousness but is heard most clearly in the unconscious where there is less competition. Perhaps your mind is trying to tell you something that your can’t hear over your thoughts? Meditation, tarot and art journalling are just some of the ways you can tune in to your unconscious.
The nightingale, as in the quote above, is a symbol used by poets to evoke creativity and seemingly spontaneous poetry like song. The nightingale sings on, expressing himself, day and night. Sing for the joy of singing, share your light purely for the pleasure it brings you.
In terms of mythology, he stars in the story of the Emperor and the Nightingale, which teaches appreciation for what you have and for what is real. Always a good reminder in our materialistic society. It is also about letting go of what you love, not holding on tightly because of fear.
He also appears in Greek mythology. Philomela had her tongue was cut out to prevent her from telling anyone about her rape, and was later turned into a nightingale by the gods to help her escape from death at the hands of her rapist. And thus the nightingale sings a sorrowful lament to this day.
And fittingly that is all I have about the elusive nightingale…
*It is the male nightingale who sings although for a long time it was thought to be the female.