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Matthew Arnold was a British poet who was the son of the famous headmaster of Rugby School, Thomas Arnold (for whom he wrote the poem “Rugby Chapel”). Arnold was born in Laleham, Middlesex, on December 24, 1822 worked as an inspector of schools. His poetic career began in 1849 with the publication of The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems. His dramatic poem published anonymously in 1852 in the collection Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems. Other famous poems includes Marguerite poems, The Forsaken Merman, Dover Beach, Scholar Gipsy, Philomela, Tristram and Iseult, Sohrab and Rustum etc . . . His poems are not of high quality and mostly with classical themes in meditative and melancholy mood like alienation, stoicism, despair and spiritual emptiness. Arnold’s poetic career ended with New Poems (1867). He called Chaucer as the father of our splendid English Poetry.

Aldous Huxley was the great-nephew of Matthew Arnold. Arnold got a fame as prose writer and critic who has described as great critic by David Daiches. He was also considered as sage writer, who chastises and instructs the readers on contemporary social issues. He deals with the difficulties of preserving personal values in a world drastically transformed by industrialism, science and democracy. Culture and Anarchy is his famous criticism published in 1869. He died in 15 April 1888 in Liverpool.


This free verse poem is based on the Greek mythological figure Philomela. Philomela was the daughter of King Pandion of Athens. Her sister Procne was married to Tereus, a Thracian King who had a son named Itys. Tereus set his heart on his wife’s sister Philomela. He went to Athens to ask his father-in-law King Pandion for his second daughter in marriage by saying that Procne has died. Pandion accepted his favour and sent Philomela and some guards with him. While returning to Thrace, King Tereus tossed all the guards around her into the sea and took Philomela into the woods on a mountain. He forced himself upon her, raped her and then cut her tongue out. He shut her up in the woods so that she could never tell this to anyone. However Philomela managed to send tapestry to her sister Procne through a messenger. After that, Procne left the kingdom and rescued her sister from woods. To avenge Tereus, she killed her son Itys and served him to Tereus by cooking their son into food. When Tereus discovered about this, he chased the sisters to kill, but god saved them by changing them into metaphors. Philomela was changed into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow. This myth of Philomela served as the base for Arnold to write this poem.


Hark! ah, the nightingale—

The tawny-throated!

Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst!

What triumph! hark!—what pain!

O wanderer from a Grecian shore,

Still, after many years, in distant lands,

Still nourishing in thy bewilder'd brain

That wild, unquench'd, deep-sunken, old-world pain—

Say, will it never heal?

And can this fragrant lawn

With its cool trees, and night,

And the sweet, tranquil Thames,

And moonshine, and the dew,

To thy rack'd heart and brain

Afford no balm?

Dost thou to-night behold,

Here, through the moonlight on this English grass,

The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild?

Dost thou again peruse

With hot cheeks and sear'd eyes

The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame?

Dost thou once more assay

Thy flight, and feel come over thee,

Poor fugitive, the feathery change

Once more, and once more seem to make resound

With love and hate, triumph and agony,

Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale?

Listen, Eugenia—

How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves!

Again—thou hearest?

Eternal passion!

Eternal pain!


Listen! To the full time professional voice over nightingale. Listen from the woods lighted by the moon. As the nightingale fly apart with sudden violence from the trees, it amazed the poet like the processional entry of a victorious general into ancient Rome. As well, it also startled sudden pain. The poet addressed nightingale (Philomela) as a wanderer, who crosses the shores of Greece by wandering around the world. Even after so many years from far away Greece, still she is sustaining her life by mystifying her mind with wild, insatiable, hollowness of her past. The poet asks her that ‘will it never heal?’ because, even with these fragrant lawn with cool trees in night, the sweet peaceful river Thames, the moonshine and the freshness of the woods with dew drops; she cannot be able to heal her painful heart and revengeful brain from the bitter past of betrayal.

The poet asks Philomela many questions like, "will you, while wandering tonight stop by the English grass (hostile palace of Tracian wild) in the moonlight? Do you still want to examine with fury/scorch red cheeks and eyes to free from tangles and your dumb sister Procne's misfortune? Do you want to determine your flying as nightingale and the feel of it? Then he addresses her as a poor deserter who changed as a nightingale. All her sound voices again and again with love and hate, victory and pain from Lone Daulis (a hometown of Tereus) to Cephissian vale (an ancient Greece land) were the tragic incident took place. He also asks Roman Martyr, Saint Eugene (beheaded after converting to Christianity) to listen to the sound of Philomela, who is flying with sudden violence through the leaves of the trees with past pain (with Eternal passion and Eternal pain).


Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold by Arnold, Matthew (1913)

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