To a Nightingale


(from the French of A. de Larmartine)

When thy celestial songs prelude
The stillnesses of summer nights,
Winged songster of my solitude,
Thou know’st not whom thy song delights.

Thou know’st not how e’en in my sleep
I hear thy sweet, sweet melody,
Gladdening the life in forest deep
With thy caressing lullaby.

Thou know’st not that my very breath
Between my lips I fear to loose;
My foot I hardly place on earth
Lest it some little flower should bruise.

Thou know’st not how another bard
Whose lyre hath lesser power to please,
Repeats within the song he heard,
Nocturnal song among the trees.

But should the evening star come down
To listen on the mountains high,
From branch to branch thou hast quick flown
Like a bright beam that flashes by!

E’en as a spring, as out it flows,
Ripples by through the little stones,
And sings and babbles ‘neath the moss,
Troubled and stilled are thy shy tones.

Ah, bird! Thy thrilling throat sublime
Is much too pure for here below;
A prayer which up to God doth climb
Is the sweet music that you know.

Thy warblings and thy trilled rounds
Seem to most aptly harmonise;
In nature the most lovely sounds,
As if the very Heaven sighs.

Thy pipe, which is oft-hap ignored,
Is the voice of the azure deep,
And of the tree, the forest lord,
And of the vale where shadows sleep.

Thou usest all the sounds I hear,
The murmuring of the sleepy waves,
The echoes dying in the air,
The rustle of the falling leaves.

The crystal water, drip by drip,
As from the rocks it patters rain,
Escaping o’er the basin lip
To form a little stream again:

In thy sweet sounds wherein I tell
Divine instruction and delight,
God hears the voice, O Philomel,
He hears thee singing in the night.

Ah, these nocturnal soothing hours,
These sacred mysteries of eve,
Such fragrance as some blooming flowers
About an urn, like incense, weave;

The leaves whereon the dewdrops hang,
The freshening of the forest breeze –
Nature, if thy throat never sang,
Thou hast enough of charm in these!

Yet that mysterious sweeter voice,
The sigh of night that comes to me,
The angels hear it and rejoice,
Oh, songster, that belongs to thee!

Oh, blend my voice with that of mine,
The same ear loves us both and hates;
But thy prayer, airy, divine,
Climbs highest in the heav’n that waits.

It is thy little soul’s delight,
That knows but love and purity,
Divine upon the summer night,
Floats high thy hymn of ecstasy.

And I with songs that no one hears,
Which groan when coming from the heart,
Feel ever moved to bitter tears
(Such melancholy they impart)
In hearing thy consummate art!

1924 (with some modifications later)