It was dark in the covert. From the unseen underwoods came a trill. My friend who had taken me walking in this green Somerset lane paused to listen.
Calm-throated, then rising, a quick buoyant spiral of notes, keen, sweetly piercing. A few seconds and it was over.
"Have you ever heard a nightingale?" my friend asked. This was May 1965 or so.
I hadn't. I was, what, twenty-four, twenty-five?
In the spring of 1819 Keats was twenty-three. He had not far to go.
Coleridge also heard the nightingale in Highgate, early, that forward spring.
The reclusive night-wandering bird, pulled toward the poets' gardens beneath a waxing moon.
Sorrows, mysteries, businesses and sillinesses: human things played out to the backdrop of a deeply earth-tuned melody.
And then, forever, the brevity of the northern summer nights.
Ode to the Nightingale: holograph draft: John Keats, 1819
Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos): illustration in Naturgeschichte der Vögel, J. F. Naumann, 1905