Philomela holds a privileged place in Euro-American poetry. Tracking the nightingales in Ovid, Marie de France, Gascoigne, Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning reveals a new dimension of an old trope. Frequently paired with images of architectural and bodily containment, the nightingale’s song mediates between sound and space. This article builds on Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, who use the bird to think about enclosure (sonic, spatial) and territorial possession. Nesting T. S. Eliot’s nightingales within a wider context clarifies other kinds of containment in “A Game of Chess” from The Waste Land, resolving some of the section’s enduring ambiguity concerning images of vacuity and the disembodied voice. Ultimately, this article contributes to debates in lyric studies, arguing for a reappraisal of the nightingale in comparative verse history.
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