Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
The Nightingale
By Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
THE NIGHTINGALE, 1 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,        5
    Her throat in tunes expresseth
    What grief her breast oppresseth
  For Tereus’ force on her chaste will prevailing.
O Philomela fair, O take some gladness 2
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness!        10
    Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.
Alas! she hath no other cause of anguish
  But Tereus’ love, on her by strong hand wroken,
Wherein she suffering, all her spirits languish,        15
  Full womanlike complains her will was broken.
    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.        20
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.
Note 1. Dr. Grosart says, “The Nightingale is certainly a song of the Stella series. It is taken from the folio Arcadia, ed. 1598. It is given to the tune of “Non credo giàche piu infelice amante.” [back]
Note 2. O Philomela fair, etc. Though Sidney here makes Philomela the victim of Tereus’ force, the myth in transmission differs, and Procne (the swallow) is alternately made to suffer his violence. The legend, however, is one that is made much of by the Elizabethan poets in allusion of the sisters’ tragedy; while Philomela has been a favorite figure in the entire range of our poetry. I quote the myth as given in Bulfinch’s Age of Fable: “Pandion had two daughters, Procne and Philomela, the former of whom became queen to Tereus, King of Thrace. After the birth of their son Itylus, the king cut out his wife’s tongue, and gave out that she was dead. He then married Philomela. Procne wove her story in a web, by which means Philomela was informed of the terrible fact. The sisters then slew the child Itylus, and served his flesh upon his father’s table. The gods were angry, and in vengeance transformed Procne into a swallow and Philomela into a nightingale, ever lamenting the tragedy, and Tereus a hawk, ever pursuing the two.” [back]

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