The Woodman and the Nightingale

Shelley, Percy Bysshe

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Aug-08-1994


This is the story of a woodman who hates the sound of the nightingale. The song unites all the other creatures of the forest. The bird’s music "shook forth the dull oblivion / Out of their dreams; harmony became love / In every soul but one." Every soul except the woodman’s is united by the emotion evoked by the nightingale. The woodman spends his days chopping down trees, each of which contains the soul of a wood nymph and provides beauty and shelter to the world. The world is full, says Shelley, of people like the Woodman who "expel / Love’s gentle Dryads from the haunts of life, / And vex the nightingales in every dell."


The Romantics believed society should be built around a shared aesthetic. That which all hearts felt to be true became the law. The creatures of the forest represent an ideal community. They all are stimulated and joined by the nightingale’s song. (The Romantic poets thought of themselves as human nightingales in this sense). The woodman represents the aberrant member of the community. His faulty morality threatens the entire community. Shelley is warning men not to steel themselves against the beauty of nature.


First published: 1824

Primary Source

Poetical Works


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York




Thomas Hutchinson