The nightingale has a unique place in cultural history: the most prized of songbirds, it has inspired more poems than any other creature and is also the most mythologized of birds. Nightingale juxtaposes the bird of poetry, music, myth and lore with the living bird of wood and scrubland, unpicking the entangled relationship between them. Covering a huge range of poets, musicians, artists, nature writers and natural historians, from Aristotle, Keats and Vera Lynn to Bob Dylan, Nightingale charts our fascination through history with this nondescript yet melodious little brown bird. It also documents the nightingale’s disappearance from British breeding grounds, and the implications this has for its conservation.
Bethan Roberts is the William Noble Postdoctoral Research Associate in English at the University of Liverpool. She is the author of Charlotte Smith and the Sonnet: Form, Place and Tradition in the Late Eighteenth Century (2019).
"With grace and vision, Roberts lets us hear the music and mystery of nightingales sounding across centuries and cultures. This powerfully attentive study of an astonishing bird is also a miniature history of literature and of human efforts to find words for nature. Deeply researched, lyrical, elegiac, rich with hope and vitality, this is a book for our times."
– Alexandra Harris, Professorial Fellow in English at the University of Birmingham and author of Romantic Moderns
"Bethan Roberts's book is lucid, exhaustive, generous and intelligent [...] all poets should read it. All birdwatchers should too. It reads true to the bird as well as to the long history of its human-imagined existence. To have seen what we have made of nightingales and to be able to leave us with the bird restored to itself is a great achievement."
– Tim Dee, author of Greenery and The Running Sky