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The Frog and the Nightingale – Vikram Seth

This is a story-poem of a brainless nightingale who was ‘slowly and deceitfully murdered’ by a jealous and cunning frog. What happened was, the nightingale sang better than the frog and he became jealous of her. In order to get rid of his rival, the frog pretended to be a great, knowledgeable singer and agreed to train her. Under his rigorous, continuous training, the nightingale became ill, her sweet voice turned rough and irritating. Consequently, her audience thinned down. One night, while the nightingale sang for a sleepy audience of a few birds and animals, the frog shouted at her to breathe deep. In her attempt to please the frog, she died!

Character traits
  • Frog : Crafty/cunning – high self esteem – pretentious – manipulative – scheming – wily – shrewd – devious – artful – sly – unscrupulous
  • Nighingale : Innocent – stupid – low self esteem – easily swayed/influenced – craving for popularity – easily flattered – fickleminded
Summary
  • There lived a frog in a forest called Bingle Bog.
  • All the animals and birds loathed/hated the frog for his night-long croaking.
  • In spite of their pleas, warnings and threats, the frog continued to croak at night.
  • One night a nightingale came to this forest and sang a melodious song and instantly became the sweetheart of all the animals and birds of Bingle Bog.
  • Animals and birds gathered in thousands to attend her concerts every night but frog kept himself away, unable to see the instance fame the nightingale won. He decided to get rid of the nightingale.
  • The frog presented himself as a great singer, impressed the nightingale and offered to train her to become a great singer with his experience and skills.
  • The senseless nightingale was terribly impressed by the Mozart of Bingle Bog and took training.
  • Day and night the frog taught the bird and under harsh weather and due to overexertion, she lost her voice.
  • When the nightingale saw her audience melt away, she sang without dedication.
  • The frog scolded her often, got her confidence drained out and made her nervous at the thought of singing.
  • Following a training session, while taking deep breath, the bird died on the stage.
  • The frog blamed the nightingale for being nervous and being influenced by crowds.
  • With the nightingale murdered so cunningly, the frog went on being the only singer of the Bingle Bog.
Theme

The theme of the poem could be easily linked to multiple instances yet the most common connection is with power politics played in the society. People resort to any means to get rid of their rivals in any field. When an existing singer sees potential threats from a rising singer, he eliminates him/her using one of the many ways.

Stanza I

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.

Meaning
  • Bingle Bog – A swampy forest where this happened.
  • Dusk to dawn – Evening to morning
  • Awn – On
  • Loathed – Hated
  • Alas! – A sad expression
  • Cacophony – A very loud and unpleasant noise
  • Blared out – Shouted; roared
  • Sumac tree – A not very tall tree
  • Minstrelled on – Sang
Questions & Answers
  1. Why does the poem begin with “once upon a time?”
    The poem is a story poem. To create the effect of a story with a moral, the poet begins it this way.
  2. What is Bingle Bog?
    Bingle Bog is marshy patch of land part of a forest where the frog in the poem lived apart from a number of other animals.
  3. Where exactly did the frog live?
    The frog lived under a sumac tree in the Bingle Bog.
  4. What was the time of the frog’s minstrels?
    The frog’s minstrel timing began in the late evening and extended up to early morning.
  5. What poetic device is employed in the line, “He croaked awn and awn and awn?” What does ‘awn’ mean?
    Repetition is the poetic device used in the line. Awn in an acronym of ‘on’.’
  6. Why was there no choice for the creatures in Bingle Bog?
    The animals in the Bingle Bog had no choice because the frog went on croaking throughout every night and never heeded to their requests and threats.
  7. What do the words, ‘crass-cacophony and blared out’ suggest about the quality of the frog’s singing?
    These words are suggestive of the frog’s rough, unpleasant and loud voice.
  8. How was the frog known as in the Bingle Bog?
    The frog was known for his irritating sound that used to trouble all the creatures of the Bog.
  9. What was the effect of the nightingale’s song?
    When the nightingale started casting her melody in the moonlight, the frog was left dumbstruck whereas the other creatures dream-walked to the sumac tree. The whole bog remained rapt and admired her voice and applauded her when she ended but the frog went mad at this.
  10. How was the frog’s reaction to the nightingale different from the other creatures? What was the consequence of this ill feeling?
    The frog was obviously jealous of his rival, the nightingale and had finally decided to eliminate her.

Stanza II

Neither stones nor prayers nor sticks,
Insults or complaints or bricks
Stilled the frog’s determination
To display his heart’s elation.

Meaning
  • Still – Stop
  • Determination – Resolution; firm resolve
  • Heart’s elation – Heart’s pride
Questions & Answers
  1. How did the creatures try to stop the frog?
    The creatures of Bingle Bog tried to stop the frog’s singing by means of requests, prayers, threats, etc. They even went on beating the frog with sticks and hitting him with stones.
  2. What was the frog’s determination?
    The frog’s determination was to sing throughout the night in spite of all the criticism and objections faced from the creatures of the Bingle Bog.
  3. What was the Frog’s heart’s elation? How did he display it?
    The pride that he was the peerless singer of the Bingle Bog was the frog’s heart’s elation. He displayed it by singing throughout the nights.

Next – Stanza III

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