‘The Nightingale and the Glow Worm’ : A kind of Aesop’s Fable in verse, about mutual respect among those with different talents.
‘The Nightingale and the Glow Worm’

‘Poems Every Child Should Know’, edited by Mary E. Burt.

This is really an Aesop’s Fable in verse form, a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek effort by a poet better known for his tireless work for the abolition of slavery, for his Christian poetry, and for being a favourite of Jane Austen.

note: Cowper is pronounced ‘coo-per’.

‘The Nightingale and the Glow Worm’

A NIGHTINGALE, that all day long
Had cheered the village with his song,
Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
Nor yet when eventide was ended,
Began to feel, as well he might,
The keen demands of appetite;

When, looking eagerly around,
He spied far off, upon the ground,
A something shining in the dark,
And knew the glow-worm by his spark;
So, stooping down from hawthorn top,
He thought to put him in his crop.

The worm, aware of his intent,
Harangued him thus, right eloquent:
‘Did you admire my lamp,’ quoth he,
‘As much as I your minstrelsy,
You would abhor to do me wrong,
As much as I to spoil your song;

For ’twas the self-same power divine,
Taught you to sing and me to shine;
That you with music, I with light,
Might beautify and cheer the night.’
The songster heard his short oration,
And warbling out his approbation,
Released him, as my story tells,
And found a supper somewhere else.

This poem is often given to students of English as a foreign language (EFL) for study. Below is a version in everyday English.

1. A nightingale made everyone in the village happy by singing all day. He kept on singing into the evening, and even to night-time. At last (and who could blame him?) he began to feel tired and hungry.

2. He saw in the distance, on the ground, something that shone in the dark. He recognised the light of a glow-worm. So he came down from his hawthorn tree with the intention of eating the glow-worm.

3. But the glow-worm guessed what the nightingale planned to do to him. He gave the bird a lecture. He said he valued the nightingale’s song, and so would never harm the bird. The nightingale should value the glow-worm’s light in the same way.

4. For the bird’s song (the glow-worm went on) and the glow-worm’s light were both made by God. One makes the day more beautiful, the other makes the night more beautiful. The Nightingale listened to this speech, sang with approval, and let the glow-worm go.

‘Poems Every Child Should Know’, edited by Mary E. Burt.

See Also

Compare Cowper’s little tale with Aesop’s similar fable, The Lion and the Mouse.

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Picture: © Kadri Niinsalu, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. View original
A glow worm on a tree near Lake Põlva, Estonia. For the song of the nightingale, visit RSPB: Nightingale.
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