To the Nightingale

By Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

Pensieve editors' note: The thaw of winter into spring is often a time for us to recognize and show appreciation for the beauty of nature. This poem, published in 1713 by one of the few female poets of the eighteenth century, explores that fascination while also commenting on the inadequacy of artists to capture natural beauty, which, ironically, they so often try to emulate.

Exert thy voice, sweet harbinger of spring!
    This moment is thy time to sing,
    This moment I attend to praise,
And set my numbers to they lays.
    Free as thine shall be my song;
    As they music, short, or long.
Poets, wild as thee, were born,
    Pleasing best when unconfined,
    When to please is least designed,
Soothing but their cares to rest;
    Cares do still their thoughts molest,
    And still th' unhappy poet's breast,
Like thine, when best he sings, is placed against a thorn.

She begins, Let all be still!
    Muse, they promise now fulfill!
Sweet, oh! sweet, still sweeter yet
Can thy words such accents fit,
Canst thou syllables refine,
Melt a sense that shall retain
Still some spirit of the brain,
Till with sounds like these it join.
    'Twill not be! then change thy note;
    Let division shake thy throat.
Hark! Division now she tries;
Yet as far the Muse outflies.
    Cease then, prithee, cease thy tune;
    Trifler, wilt thou sing till June?
Till thy business all lies waste,
And the time of building's past!
    Thus we poets that have speech,
Unlike what they forests teach,
    If a fluent vein be shown
    That's transcendent to our own,
Criticize, reform, or preach,
Or censure what we cannot reach.


Popular Posts