THE FROG AND THE NIGHTINGALE
– VIKRAM SETH
The Original Poem
Once upon a time a frog
Croaked away in Bingle Bog.
Every night from dusk to dawn
He croaked awn and awn and awn.
Other creatures loathed his voice,
But, alas, they had no choice,
And the crass cacophony
Blared out from the sumac tree
At whose foot the frog each night
Minstrelled on till morning light.
Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks,
Insults or complaints or bricks
Stilled the frog’s determination
To display his heart’s elation.
But one night a nightingale
In the moonlight cold and pale
Perched upon the sumac tree
Casting forth her melody.
Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog,
And the whole admiring bog
Stared towards the sumac, rapt,
And, when she had ended, clapped.
Ducks had swum and herons waded
To her as she serenaded,
And a solitary loon
Wept beneath the summer moon.
Toads and teals and tiddlers, captured
By her voice, cheered on, enraptured:
‘Bravo’ ‘Too divine!’ ‘Encore
So the nightingale once more,
Quite unused to such applause,
Sang till dawn without a pause.
Next night when the nightingale
Shook her head and twitched her tail,
Closed an eye and fluffed a wing
And had cleared her throat to sing
She was startled by a croak.
‘Sorry was that you who spoke?’
She enquired when the frog
Hopped towards her from the bog.
‘Yes,’ the frog replied. ‘You see
I’m the frog who owns this tree.
In this bog I’ve long been known
And, of course, I wield my pen
For BogTrumpet now and then.’
‘Did you … did you likemysong
‘Not too bad – but far too long.
The technique was fine, of course,
But it lacked a certain force.’
Oh!’ the nightingale confessed,
Greatly flattered and impressed
That a critic of such note
Had discussed her art and throat:
‘I don’t think the song’s divine.
But – oh, well – at least it’s mine.’
‘That’s not much to boast about
Said the heartless frog. ‘Without
Proper training such as I
And few others – can supply,
You’ll remain a mere beginner.
But withmeyou’ll be a winner.”
‘Dearest frog,’ the nightingale
Breathed: ‘This is a fairy tale
And you’re Mozart in disguise
Come to earth beforemyeyes.
‘Well, I charge a modest fee.’
‘Oh!’ ‘But it won’t hurt, you’ll see.
Nowthe nightingale, inspired,
Flushed with confidence, and fired
With both art and adoration,
Sang – and was a huge sensation.
Animals for miles around
Flocked towards the magic sound,
And the frog with great precision
Counted heads and charged admission.
Though next morning it was raining,
He began her vocal training.
‘But I can’t sing in this weather.’
‘Come,mydear – we’ll sing together.
Just put on your scarf and sash.
Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-ash!’
So the frog and nightingale
Journeyed up and down the scale
For six hours, till she was shivering
And her voice was hoarse and quivering.
Though subdued and sleep-deprived,
In the night her throat revived.
And the sumac tree was bowed
With a breathless, titled crowd:
Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent,
Mallard and MiladyTrent,
Martin Cardinal Mephisto
And the Coot of Monte Cristo.
Ladies with tiaras glittering
In the interval sat twittering
-And the frog observed them glitter
With a joy both sweet and bitter.
Every day the frog who’d sold her
Songs for silver tried to scold her
‘You must practise even longer
Till your voice, like mine, grows stronger.
In the second song last night
You got nervous in mid-flight.
And,mydear, lay on-more trills:
Audiences enjoy such frills.
You must make your public happier.
Give them something sharper, snappier.
We must aim for better billings.
You still owemesixty shillings.
Day by day the nightingale
Grew more sorrowful and pale.
Night on night her tired song
Zipped and trilled and bounced along,
Till the birds and beasts grew tired
At a voice so uninspired
And the ticket office gross
Crashed, and she grew more morose
For her ears were now addicted
To applause quite unrestricted,
And to sing into the night
All alone gave no delight
Nowthe frog puffed up with rage.
Brainless bird – you’re on the stage
Use your wits, and follow fashion.
Puff your lungs out with your passion.
Trembling, terrified to fail,
Blind with tears, the nightingale
Heard him out in silence, tried,
Puffed up, burst a vein, and died.
Said the frog: ‘I tried’ to teach her,
But she was a stupid creature –
Far too nervous, far too tense,
Far too prone to influence.
Well, poor bird – she should have known
That your song must be your own.
That’s why I sing with panache:
‘Koo-oh-ah! ko-ash! ko-as
And the foghorn of the frog
Blared unrivalled through the bog
Important Terms from the Poetry
elation – feeling a great happiness and excitement
rapt – so interested in something that you are not aware of anything else
serenade – gentle music to his lover by a man standing under her window
loon – anAmerican bird that eats fish and has a cry like a laugh
enraptured – in a state of deep pleasure
encore – (here) once more! repeat
applause – the noise made by a group of people clapping their hands and
sometimes shouting to show their approval
twitched – pulled up with a sudden movement
fluffed – to do something badly/to fail at something
splendid – excellent
baritone – a man’s singing voice with a certain type of range
wield – to have and use power/authority
confessed – agreed
flattered – felt happy at false praise
impressed – deeply influenced
to boast about – to speak high of
Mozart – a classicalAustrian musician&composer of 18 century
in disguise – in a concealed form
adoration – a feeling of great love or worship
precision – carefully and accurately
charged admission – allowed to come in at a fee
subdued – (here) tired
sleep deprived – kept away from sleep (feeling lethargic)
titled crowd – throngs of people with titles
tiaras – pieces of jewellery, studded with precious stones.
glitter – shine
twittering – a series of short high sounds that birds make
trills – repeated short high sounds (like a bird)
zipped – moved quickly
uninspired – rude and unpleasant behaviour as at a ticket-window
morose – sad
addicted – habitual of
follow fashion – to go after current trend
with panache – with a confident and elegant way to impress others
foghorn – (originally) an instrument that makes a loud noise to warn ships of a
danger. (here) croaking or unmusical.
unrivalled – having none to match him
Vikram Seth is a well-known poet in India. He was born in 1952 in Calcutta (Kolkata). The poem The Frog and the Nightingale is from his book of poems called Beastly tales from Here and There (1991). As the title makes it explicit that the poems are based on narratives from various parts of the world, Greece, China, India and Ukraine not to mention the fantasy world of Gup. The poems highlight the tension between good and evil. These tales in verse are simple to read and are like the fables, teaching important lessons of life. The poem under study portrays the cunning frog and the Naïve Nightingale who pays the price of her innocence by losing her purity, her originality and ultimately her life.
Once upon a time a frog living in Bingle Bog (marshy area) croaked away in his unpleasant voice all night. The other creatures hated his voice and did everything in their power to make him quiet-threw sticks, stones, prayed, insulted, complained , threw bricks but all in vain. Nothing could stop the frog from minstrel ling (singing) all night in his harsh voice. One night his renditions were interrupted when a Nightingale perched itself on the Sumac Tree and burst into the most melodious song ever heard under the Sumac Tree. The other creatures of the Bingle Bog unused to such sweet voice heard her mesmerized by the beauty of the song. Creatures from all over the forest were drawn towards the bird‘s song and asked for a repeat performance. Toads, Toddlers, teals Ducks and Herons cheered her song. Not used to praise the Nightingale kept giving performance the whole night. Next night when the nightingale got ready for the performance (She had all the mannerisms of an artist clearing of throat, adjusting the mike, her appearance).
The Frog made his presence felt introduced himself as the owner of the tree, known also for his deep voice and as a columnist for the Bog Trumpet (Magazine). Highly impressed by the Frog‘s credentials, the Nightingale was too eager to hear about his opinion. The Frog without mincing any words criticized her art as a professional. Nightingale being too naïve believed and defended herself by claiming to be original. The Frog brushed her claims aside and told her in no uncertain terms that without his guidance she would be nobody.
Unable to hide her excitement at her good luck, the nightingale accepted the honor of being trained by a musician of repute! The frog made it very clear that he would be charging a modest fee but assuring her that she would be able to pay back. So the Nightingale began her career as a performer-infused with confidence, filled with a zest for performance and inspired by the fawning, sang and became a sensation overnight. The magical quality of her song attracted creatures of the Bingle Bog from far and wide. The opportunist frog cashed on the crowd and started charging admission fee. The arrogant and heartless frog never let an opportunity to make the Nightingale realize who was in control. Without a care for the bad weather, he would order her to practice, push her to her limit. In his role of a patron he became a hard task master, pushing the Nightingale to the verge of collapse
Day after Day this went on, the Nightingale now sleep deprived and exhausted went on performing. The Sumac tree of Bingle Bog was humbled (honored) by the presence of the elite of the Bingle Bog (Poet is being sarcastic about people who come to see musical performance only for the sake of showing off jewels, without little bit of interest in the art. Employing the pun on words the poet lists few royal titles-Duke, Count, Cardinal, Mallord, Earl who visited the Sumac tree to hear the Nightingale perform. On one hand the Frog was happy as his business was so profitable on the other hand he was jealous of the success of the Nightingale. His greed made him unreasonable, every day he would point out her flaws, criticized her singing advised her on the technique; remind her of her goal of being successful and how much she owed him.
This constant badgering by the Frog robbed the Nightingale of her creativity. She started sounding bored, uninspired and no amount of mannerism could revive the audience. The cash collection started falling and the disinterested applause of few who still were coming gave her no happiness. It made her sorrowful and depressed. The frog was livid as his business was getting affected. He lost his temper and became cruel. He asked her to follow trends and give the people what they wanted. The Nightingale tried very hard, collected her wits about her, performed but alas she burst a vein and collapsed. The calculative Frog quickly washed his hands off the Nightingale. He pointed out how the Nightingale was a stupid creature, he tried to teach her but she was very nervous, easy on the ear and gullible. He became a little brazen as he pointed out the Bird should have known that one‘s song should be one‘s own (meaning -You can‘t let other people dictate your life. She should have known when to say no).
The manipulative Frog not only cleared himself of all responsibility of the Bird‘s death but also made it appear that the bird was responsible for her death. He projects himself as a confident, practical and wise creature who sings with an élan! Hence the Frog resumed his position in the Bog and continued to blare out in his harsh and unpleasant voice undisputed and unrivalled. The moral of the poem is that one has to pay for one‘s gullibility. Being inspired and influenced by someone unknown and stranger is indeed a foolish work. The nightingale had to suffer for her misjudgment. If our self-image is based on what others make us believe we are, we will always be misguided. It is important to know your own worth. The Nightingale’s gullible servile nature results in her tragic death. The pompous, scheming frog plans her destruction after winning her trust. Lack of confidence and good judgment of character can bring misery from which there is no escape.
- He has been portrayed as arrogant, pompous, haughty, patronizing, opportunist, condescending and boastful.
- He is used to his position of the only singer of the Bingle Bog
- The entry of the melodious nightingale is an eye opener
- Being practical and worldly wise he uses his position to influence her
- He impresses upon her his superiority by discussing her art condescendingly
- He manipulates the situation to his advantage, starts making profit by charging admission fee.
- His haughtiness is evident when he doesn‘t tolerate any slips on the nightingale‘s part.
- He gradually works on the nightingale‘s weakness- of being rich and Famous (downfall of many)
- A smooth talker brushes away the blame of nightingale‘s death by philosophizing it that “your song must be your own”
- She is portrayed as the innocent, naïve, gullible, polite, unsure, timid, shy and nervous type.
- The taste of appreciation enhances her self-esteem making her gullible.
- The desire to impress makes her blind to the faults of the frog.
- Her purity, originality and piousness get shadowed by the greed for status and commercial success.
- Trapped in the vicious circle of success, she pushes herself to a point of exhaustion.
- Addicted to her status, unable to get out of the clutches of the frog she tries – the misguided efforts result in her death.
IMPORTANT QUESTION ANSWERS
Answer in 30-40 words:
1.How did the frog benefit from the nightingale‘s song?
- The nightingale sang melodiously. All the creatures came to listen to her singing. The wily frog charged admission fee from all of them. The frog made a lot of money, as everyone admired the nightingale‘s song. He also sold his songs to the nightingale and made money. In this way he got benefitted from the nightingale‘s song.
- How did the frog train the nightingale in her singing?
- The training began on a rainy day. He coaxed her to sing, although she was quite unused to singing in that weather. He told her to journey up and down the scales of musical notes for six hours, without giving her any rest, till her voice became hoarse and trembling. He advised her to put on her scarf and sash as this would help her to sing in the weather. He also charged her a fee and told her to practice for a longer time each day till her voice, like his own, grew stronger.
- What is your impression about the frog in the poem?
- The frog is an arrogant creature. All the creatures of the bog loath his song. Even prayers or bricks fail to silence him. He considers himself as the master of the bog. He is proud of his voice. He is jealous of the nightingale‘s popularity and is determined to remove her from the scene, and even succeeds. He is heartless.
Short answer questions in about 30-40 words: (2 marks each)
Based on your reading of the poem answer the following questions briefly:
- In spite of the frog‘s crass cacophony how could he emerge as the winner?
- What chance incident brought some respite to the creatures of Bingle Bog?
- How did the frog encash on the nightingale‘s popularity?
- What characteristics helped the frog to overpower the Nightingale?
- What piece of advice did the frog give to the nightingale to improvise her singing?
- Why do you think the nightingale lost her appeal for the masses?
- How did the celebrity status affect the nightingale?
- What do you think the nightingale was afraid of?
- In what sense was the nightingale a stupid creature?
- How did the frog become the unrivalled king of the Bog?
Long answer questions in about 100-150 words:
- Do you think nightingale was responsible for her own death? Substantiate your answer with examples from the poem
- Taking the nightingale as a protégée was a ploy employed by the frog to save his position. Comment
- The poem is an example of how professional rivalry can play with the lives of people. Elaborate.
- Bring out the symbolism as used by the poet in the poem “The frog and the Nightingale”
- Write the theme of the poem in 100 words.