John Clare: The Nightingale’s Nest

I feel like the poet has invited us along on an adventure to find the form of love. Love, of course, isn’t a tangible thing we can hold in the way we could hold a nightingale – if we could catch one, which in this poem we can’t – yet we know love exists the way we know the nightingale exists. We hear its song, we see the nest it’s built, but if we try to disturb it then love may flee from us and thus we are also aware of when love isn’t present.

And like the nightingale’s nest, love can be made from the most humble objects and wear the most humble cloak.

This poem is highly intimate in that the deeper we get into the poem the closer we get to the place where love is born: love’s nest and the fragile eggs full of love’s potential. What goes on in those eggs is a mystery, just like the nightingale herself, yet when we hear the “out-sobbing” of the song we instantly recognize the connection between ourselves, young and old, with that bird, with the woods, with all of nature and the universe. We are intimately connected to all living, loving things.

Yet there is a timidity too. The bird hides when she sings, she hides her nest deep in the brambles, she is not flashy, but even in a world full of fear and danger, she allows herself to “tremble in her ecstasy”, and “to release her heart” as if wanting so much to be found, to be discovered, to share everything about herself with the universe. And so there is conflict here in that she hides but finds joy in announcing her vitality to all of nature.

How often do we feel the same way? Late at night when we might find ourselves alone we may imagine ourselves as great lovers full of energy and strength and confidence, yet when the sun comes up and we must venture forth into the brambles of society we shrink, we hide our ecstasy from others and instead of out-sobbing our heart’s joy we conceal it. How brave then we must be to find love, to let love find us! How much like the nightingale we are and how much like her tender eggs we are too, fragile, vulnerable, hidden away, but so full of potential.