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'Nightingale' & Loss of True Meaning

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  1. Introduction
  2. Reference to Milton's II Pensoroso
  3. As society's understanding of the nightingale
  4. Interpretations of the nightingale's song
  5. Conclusion

Cultural constructions are constantly creating realities as representations go from fiction to fact in the minds of society. In terms of Coleridge's ?Nightingale,? the same is true as one interpretation of the bird's song creates a personification that becomes not only true for that nightingale, but for all nightingales to come. As Coleridge's nightingale is attributed a melancholy disposition by society, it becomes apparent that this stipulation is not only a false personification, but is also an over-worked conception based on the previous constructions of mankind.

In Coleridge's ?Nightingale,? the speaker presents the problematic nature of attributing a melancholy disposition to any creature of nature. In the poem, Coleridge refers to Milton's II Pensoroso and the personification of the nightingale that develops as a result of a man's observation of the bird's song (Coleridge 232). Though Coleridge rejects the possibility of a melancholy bird, he does not reject the idea that nature can have other characteristics of personhood or feeling. Through the process of negation, Coleridge asserts, ?In nature nothing is melancholy,? which not only dismisses the ability of nature to be melancholy but also welcomes the possibility of all other emotions (Coleridge 232). Yet why is Coleridge able to easily reject the idea of a melancholy bird without rejecting his view of nature as anything but melancholy? While Coleridge focuses on the feeling conveyed by the personification, he regrets to address the origin of the personification itself.

[...] Being taught the meaning of the nightingale's song prior to actually hearing it, society no longer hears the song instead, society hears the previously constructed interpretations of the song through the song. It essentially becomes impossible to hear the song itself once one is told the supposed meaning of the song, for one begins constantly searching for the meaning in the ?murmurs and swift jug (Coleridge 233). The domination of the accepted interpretation takes precedent to the actual medium of expression. [...]

[...] It seems that the nightingale's song is lost amongst the abundance of prescribed meanings that precede it. Not only are the interpretations of the nightingale's song deeply embedded in the song itself, but it becomes essential for mankind to distinguish between individual interpretation and the projection of these prescribed notions. Though fictions make up our reality, as de Man points out, how much of what we understand is our expectation of what we are to hear and how much is what we are actually interpreting? [...]

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