The Captive Nightingale


Nocturnal silence reigning;

A Nightingale began,

In his cold cage, complaining

Of cruel, cruel Man:

His drooping pinions shivered,

Like withered moss so dry;

His heart with anguish quivered,

And sorrow dimmed his eye.



His grief in soothing slumbers,

No balmy power could steep;

So sweetly flowed his numbers,

The Music seemed to weep.

Unfeeling Sons of Folly!

To you the Mourner sung;

While tender melancholy

Inspired his plaintive tongue.



“Now reigns the Moon in splendour

Amid the heaven serene;

A thousand Stars attend her,

And glitter round their Queen:

Sweet hours of Inspiration!

When I, the still night long,

Was wont to pour my passion,

And breath my soul in Song.”



“But now, delicious Season!

In vain thy charms invite:

Entombed in this dire prison,

I sicken at the sight.

This morn, this vernal morning,

The happiest bird was I,

That hailed the sun returning,

Or swarm the liquid sky.”



“In yonder breezy bowers,

Among the foliage green,

I spend my tuneful hours,

In solitude serene:

These soft Melodia’s beauty

First fired my ravished eye;

I vowed eternal duty;

She looked – half kind, half coy!”



“My plumes with arbour trembling,

I fluttered, sighed and sung;

The fair one, still dissembling,

Refused to trust my tongue:

A thousand tricks inventing,

A thousand arts I tried:

Till the sweet nymph, relenting,

Confessed herself my bride.”



“Deep in the grove retiring

To choose our secret seat,

We found an oak aspiring

Beneath whose mossy feet,

Where the tall herbage swelling,

Had formed a snug alcove,

We built our humble dwelling,

And hallowed it with love.”



“Sweet scene of vanished pleasure!

This day, this fatal day,

My little ones, my treasure,

My spouse were stolen away!

I saw the precious plunder

All in a napkin bound:

– Then, smit with human thunder,

I fluttered to the ground!”



“O Man! Beneath whose vengeance,

All nature, bleeding lies!

Who charged thine impious engines,

With lightning from the skies?

What! Though from heaven defended,

The world be all thine own;

Say, how have I offended?

What have my children done?”



“Ah! Is thy bosom iron?

Does it thine heart enchain?

As these cold bars environ

And, captive, me detain?

How couldst thou wonder and plunder

The innocent and weak?

Why render those bands asunder,

Which death alone should break?”



“Where are my offspring tender?

Where is my widowed mate?

– Thou guardian moon! Defend her!

Ye stars! Avert their fate! –

Overwhelmed with killing anguish,

In iron cage, forlorn,

I see my poor babies languish!

I hear their mother mourn!



“O liberty! Inspire me,

And eagle strength supply!

Thou love almighty! Fire me!­ ­–

– I’ll burst my prison – or die! –

He sung; and forward bounded;

He broke the yielding door!

– But, with the shock confounded,

Fell, – lifeless, – on the floor!”



Farewell, then, Philomena!

Poor martyred bird! Adieu!

There’s One, my charming fellow!

Who thinks, who feels, like you:

The Bard, that pens thy story,

Amidst a prison’s gloom,

Sighs – not for wealth nor glory;

– But Freedom, or thy tomb!


Castle of York, Feb. 12, 1796.