Nightingales: an addendum

January 12, 2022

Mr Bentzman has asked me to add an addendum to his essay this week:

According to my brother-in-law, Malcolm, far wiser than me in British ornithology, as poetic as it might have been to identify the singing birds in my essay as nightingales, these are, unfortunately, on the decline. The birds I heard were almost certainly robins. Indeed, it is very likely that Vera Lynn was actually singing about a robin in Berkeley Square. Robins are drawn to areas where there are street lights.

I have happily made the addition, and am quite happy to acept that the birds Mr B heard were not nightingales. There are not many of them about these days.

Hovever, I must contradict him to insist that Vera Lynn, and even more so Judy Campbell, who first introduced the song, in the revue New Faces, knew exactly what they were singing about. The whole point of Eric Maschwitz’s lyric is that the song of a nightingale in an urban setting is something so rare as to be miraculous – as miraculous as love, in fact. Maschwitz wrote a nightingale and he meant a nightingale.

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