Saturday Poem – The Nightingale and the Glow-Worm

William Cowper was been one of Jane Austen’s favourite poets. Edward Ferrars repeated one of Cowper’s poems much to Marianne’s disdain due to how he mangled the verse metre. Cowper was also one of those preferred by Anne Brontë. In comparison to Wordsworth or Coleridge however, he seems to have faded considerably from the popular consciousness and so I decided to investigate further. His work has a strong focus on evangelical Christianity which possibly didn’t make the jump to the modern era as well as verses on daffodils. Still, I felt that there was a warmth to these words and I could see a little of why he was so popular.

The Nightingale and the Glow-Worm

A Nightingale that all day long
Had cheered the village with his song,
Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
Nor yet when eventide was ended,
Began to feel, as well he might,
The keen demands of appetite;
When looking eagerly around,
He spied, far off upon the ground,
A something shining in the dark,
And knew the glow-worm by his spark;
So stooping down from hawthorn top,
He thought to put him in his crop;
The worm, aware of his intent,
Harangued him thus right eloquent:

‘Did you admire my lamp,’ quoth he,
‘As much as I your minstrelsy,
You would abhor to do me wrong,
As much as I to spoil your song,
For ’twas the self-same power divine
Taught you to sing, and me to shine,
That you with music, I with light,
Might beautify and cheer the night.’
The songster heard his short oration,
And warbling out his approbation,
Released him, as my story tells,
And found a supper somewhere else.

Hence jarring sectaries may learn,
Their real interest to discern:
That brother should not war with brother,
And worry and devour each other,
But sing and shine by sweet consent,
Till life’s poor transient night is spent,
Respecting in each other’s case
The gifts of nature and of grace.

Those Christians best deserve the name,
Who studiously make peace their aim;
Peace, both the duty and the prize
Of him that creeps and him that flies.

William Cowper

For past Saturday Poems, take a look at the archive in Poetry Please.

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