Greek mythology Essay
With regards to subject-matter, both poems have a historical and literary background. In Greek mythology Syrinx was a nymph chased by an amorous god called Pan. In The Nightingale, according to classical mythology, Philomela was raped by her brother in law, Tereus, who then tore out her tongue so that she could not reveal his crime. Therefore both poems seem to have some roots in the subjection of females to the threat of rape by overbearing males and therefore lose their voice literally but also with regards to personal freedom. However, The Nightingale and Syrinx appear to have two very different meanings.
The Nightingale is an incredibly meaningful poem in the sense that the words chosen and the regularity in the structure help express great grief and emotion. The first line can be seen as a reference to Christianity: ‘The Nightingale as soon as April bringeth.’ (line 1) This is because April represents the beginning of Spring and the end of winter. Winter represents darkness and the Nightingale was a bird that sang with increasing joy as dawn represented by Spring approached. This made it a symbol of the Christian soul singing in the darkness of this world, joyfully anticipating the arrival of Christ, it’s light. Therefore the speaker could be trying to inform us of the Nightingales desire to rid themselves of this grief and find Christ.
However, it can be argued that the language used in The Nightingale is more archaic than that of the Syrinx. Therefore the later mention of a thorn: ‘Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.’ (line 12) Could be seen as a biblical reference to Christ and the crown of thorns. This image of a thorn represents pain not just physical but emotional. As if the speaker possibly Philomela’s sister, feels betrayed by Philomela, like how Jesus was betrayed by the Jews. Therefore the speaker does not just refer to the imagery of a sharp thorn causing great physical pain. Instead the mention of a thorn is as a biblical reference symbolising betrayal and emotional pain, which creates strong imagery as to the grief and anguish the speaker is suffering.
Syrinx on the other hand, presents a different view of the meaning behind a bird’s song than The Nightingale. Amy Clampitt has made it clear in her poem Syrinx, that she is not interested with metre and rhyme. Instead she has purposely made her rhyme, metre and layout all irregular to emphasise that a bird’s call can mean nothing at all. The Nightingale focuses on a deep meaning behind a bird’s song. However, Syrinx focuses on the fact that a bird’s call is meaningless, yet it is the sounds that are important. The first three lines express this:
Like the foghorn that’s all lung, The wind chime that’s all percussion, Like the wind itself, that’s merely air (lines 1-3) Here we see the speaker trying to highlight that sometimes sounds are only sounds and have no other meaning. Like wind that is merely air, voice and songs are merely sounds. This presents an opposite view to that of The Nightingale, as the Nightingale’s song is said to represent deep sorrow and anguish. Where Syrinx simply looks at how sometimes things really are what they seem to be.
Therefore Syrinx is a poem that looks at how sound really is just sound and nothing more: Be saying: is it o-ka-lee or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug, is it cuckoo for that matter? (lines 13-15) Here we see the speaker placing emphasis on the sounds of words as they struggle to understand what the bird is saying. They then go on to support my argument that Syrinx is a poem about how the sounds of words may have no order or meaning to them and are simply just sounds as they say it is: much less whether a bird’s call means anything in particular, or at all. (lines 16-18)
Therefore the speaker is trying to highlight the fact that a bird’s call is made up of completely arbitrary sounds and have no real meaning. This is further expressed at the beginning of the second stanza where the speaker states that: ‘Syntax comes last, there can be/ no doubt of it: came last.’ (lines 19-20) Thus we envisage the speaker telling us that these sounds are only sounds. Syntax the organization of words to represent meaning, is said to come last, therefore the speaker is placing emphasis on the fact that the sounds of words are only sounds with no deeper meaning.
However, The Nightingale contrasts greatly from the poem Syrinx, as it is a poem with a deep meaning behind it. This becomes clear as the poem progresses and the speaker tells us that the bare earth is proud of new clothing: ‘While late bare earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,’ (line 3) This is metaphorical of the Nightingales situation, because the bare earth represents the grief the Nightingale has suffered. However, the new clothing represents Spring and a new beginning for the Nightingale. Spring is also a time of love, the Nightingale with its beautiful night song is recognised as the bird of love.
The Nightingale’s link with lovers and the night makes it a perfect symbol of those who would die for love. The speaker expresses this desire for love: ‘Since wanting is more woe than too much having.’ (line 20) Therefore the speaker, who could possibly be Philomela’s sister, is basically expressing her desire for companionship and love again. The first stanza seems to represent the speaker telling us of the pain and anguish Philomela has suffered. The second stanza sees the speaker tell us that what Philomela has suffered is over now however, their suffering still continues: But I, who daily craving, Cannot have to content me, Have more cause to lament me, (lines 17-19)