Friday, March 20, 2009

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Text can be found here:

The Romantic poets were oft criticized as committing "pathetic fallacy" in later years. They were seen as projectors, projecting their own human feelings and moods on inanimate objects. They would see the weeping willow as sad and crying, and a crumbling castle as dieing and old. Of course, the weeping willow is not sad, its just chilling as a tree. This is why the romantics were seen as unrealistic, and well, romantic. However, humans have been projecting their own qualities on things that have no ability to fear since the dawn of humanity. The Greeks and Romans created myths about the world around them; in Christendom, for example, we often view the snake as evil and vile because of Adam and Eve. Projection is nothing new, the Romantics just embraced it.

The Nightingale by Coleridge is interesting because it tries to reverse projection. Throughout the poem, Coleridge is critiquing how Western thinkers have viewed the Nightingale as melancholy and sad. Instead, Coleridge hears the nightingale's song as a celebration of life. He truly enjoys it, and thinks it is a shame that so many people hear it as sad.

Nevertheless, Coleridge is committing the same crime that he is railing against. Instead of not projecting his feelings on the nightingale, he's just projecting feelings different than the traditional ideas. Actual nightingales aren't happy or sad when they sing, they are just singing to attract a mate in order to perpetuate the species. Perhaps, though, Coleridge's projection isn't all that bad. When we see the nightingale's song as a happy song, I think it would push us to more to protect the earth we all share. So maybe the Romantics' projection isn't such an awful "pathetic fallacy."

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