The Frog and the Nightingale by Vikram Seth


Vikram Seth (1952-) is an Indian novelist and poet. He has written several novels and poetry books. He has received many awards from India and abroad. ‘The Frog and the Nightingale’ is a famous poem which has many ramifications and nuances to the modern world. Once upon a time time a frog croaked in Bingle Bog from dawn to dusk. Other creatures of the bog hated his voice. The stupid cacophony- the stupid and unpleasant voice of the frog came out loudly from the base of the sumac tree. Nothing could silence frog. Other creatures resorted to many ways like throwing stones, sticks, bricks and praying, complaining and even insulting. But it all went in vain and could not kill the spirit of the determined frog. One night a nightingale came. It perched upon the Sumac tree in the cold and pale moonlight singing melodiously.The dog was dumbstruck and sat with open mouth. The whole Bog stared towards the sumac tree admiring the song of the nightingale. It was in rupture when the nightingale ended the song, it applauded. Ducks and herons came to the nightingale as she sang. But the solitary frog wept  in the summer moon out of jealousy. All the creatures- frogs, teals and tiddlers were cheered by the song and they called it divine and asked her to sing more and more. Nightingale who was not familiar to such applause sand till morning without a pause. Next night as the nightingale was about to sing, it was interrupted by the croak of the frog. It hopped and croaked and the nightingale asked the frog, “sorry, was it you who spoke?” The frog said, “yes” and told her that he owned that tree in the Bog. He was widely known for his splendid baritone. He also added that he  wrote songs for Bog  and Trumpet off and on. Then the nightingale asked the frog if he liked her song. The frog replied that her song was not bad it was much long. The technique was fine. But the song lacked some power. The nightingale confessed his mistake with a ‘sigh’. She was greatly flattered and impressed that such a famous critic had discussed her art and throat. She humbly told him that she thought her song was not divine but it was at least hers. The heartless frog told her that it was not much to boast about. Without proper training she would remain merely a beginner. But if he gave her that training she would be a winner. The training could be provided only by him or few others. The nightingale spoke to the frog with great love that it was a was a fairy tale to meet the frog. She said that the frog was the Mozart, the great musician, in disguise who had come to earth before her. The frog told her that he would charge a modest fee for his training and it wasn’t meant to hurt her. The nightingale got inspired. Flushed with confidence and fired with both art and adoration she sang. She was a success and she became a great celebrity.Animals from miles around flocked towards the magical sound of the nightingale. The frog with great accuracy and precision counted the heads of animals and charged admission fee from each. Next morning it was raining. But the frog began the nightingale’s vocal training. The nightingale told him that she couldn’t sing in that weather. The frog, however, spoke with love that they would sing together. They sand up together for six hours. She started shivering. Her voice became hoarse and she started quivering. The nightingale was silent and had little sleep. But in the night her throat revived. She started singing again. The sumac tree was bowed with titled crowd of the hearers of her song. The Owl of Sandwich, Duck of Kent, Mallard and Milady Trent, Martin Cardinal Mephisto, The Coot of Monte Cristo, ladies wearing shining tiaras sat twittering in the interval. The frog saw them twitter with both sweet and bitter joy. Everyday, the frog would scold her saying that she must practice longer till she gets voice like his grew stronger. In fact, the frog had sold her songs for silver. The frog told her that in the second song last night she got nervous in the middle. He asked her lovingly to lay much emphasis on  trills that audience may enjoy such frills.

The frog asked the nightingale that she must make the public happier by giving them something sharp and thrilling. They must aim at increasing the money. He also reminded her that she still owed him sixty shillings. Day by day the nightingale grew more sorrowful and pale. Night after night her tired song became quick and unsteady. Moreover, the birds and beasts grew tired at such dull sound. As a result, the ticket office gross crashed. The nightingale grew more morose because her ears had been addicted to free applause which had now stopped. Singing into the night gave her on delight now.

The frog got puffy with anger. He called the nightingale brainless  and told her that she was on the stage. He asked her to use her mind and follow fashion. She must fill her lungs with passion.  The nightingale trembled and was terrified to fail. She was blind with tears. She heard the frog silently and tried to sing. She puffed up to sing. But she burst a vein and due to that she died.

The poem is relevant and thought provoking in this modern materialistic and consumerist world. The frog represents the exploiter and manipulator. The nightingale represents the exploited and manipulated lot. In fact, the nightingale herself is responsible for her own downfall as such men are bound to fail before the crafty and deceitful persons. She is really brainless that she doesn’t see into things. She is innocent and credulous to the extent that whatever the frog says is accepted by her. She must have been worldly wise, careful and alert and should have seen beyond what what the frog tells her.

Another moral of the poem is that a poor self-image can do irreparable damage to a person. A poor self-image leads to lack of self-confidence and self-esteem and people who possess them are prone to other’s influence. They are easily flattered. Eventually all these would lead to their own downfall.

Text book solutions

1. Have you come across people who are not what they seem to be – like someone who is extremely friendly and helpful yet you are not very comfortable with him /her as you feel it is a put-on? Have a class discussion about such people and why you feel as you do.
Answer: Yes, I have come across such persons. They pretend for having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs etc., that they don’t really possess. At first, They are or can be successful in impressing others. However, when the real picture is revealed, they are subjected to embarrassment and humiliation. They also lose their popularity and the previously formed impression gets marred.
2. The following is a summary of the poem but it is jumbled up. Write out the events in their correct order to form a continuous paragraph.
(a) As a result, her voice lost its beauty, and the other creatures stopped coming to hear her sing.
(b) Soon the nightingale became famous, and creatures from miles around came to hear her sing.
(c) All the creatures in the bog cheered and clapped at her beautiful song.
(d) He offered to train the nightingale, so that she could sing even more beautifully.
(e) So the frog could sing unrivalled in the bog once more.
(f) The next night the frog introduced himself.
(g) The frog charged an admission fee, and earned a lot of money from these concerts.
(h) A frog croaked all night in a bog, in an unpleasant voice.
(i) But the frog made the nightingale rehearse continuously in the rain.
(j) One night a nightingale began to sing in a melodious voice.
(k) Finally the nightingale burst a vein and died.
Answer
(h) A frog croaked all night in a bog, in an unpleasant voice.
(j) One night a nightingale began to sing in a melodious voice.
(c) All the creatures in the bog cheered and clapped at her beautiful song.
(f) The next night the frog introduced himself.
(d) He offered to train the nightingale, so that she could sing even more beautifully.
(b) Soon the nightingale became famous, and creatures from miles around came to hear her sing.
(g) The frog charged an admission fee, and earned a lot of money from these concerts.
(i) But the frog made the nightingale rehearse continuously in the rain.
(a) As a result, her voice lost its beauty, and the other creatures stopped coming to hear her sing.
(k) Finally the nightingale burst a vein and died.
(e) So the frog could sing unrivalled in the bog once more.
3. Answer the following questions
(a) How did the creatures of Bingle bog react to the nightingale’s singing?
Answer: The creatures of Bingle Bog favoured the nightingale’s songs to a great extent. In fact, they gathered in crowds to hear the nightingale sing. Animals and birds, from far and wide, came to hear her sing her melodious songs.
(b) Which are the different ways in which the frog asserts his importance?
Answer: The frog asserts his importance by being authoritative, territorial and imposing. He pretended to be a great singer and he also said that he was the reporter of Bog ‘Trumpet’. He boasted that he was a music critic and a musician like Mozart and was ready to train her.
(c) Why is the frog’s joy both sweet and bitter?
Answer: The joy of the frog was sweet as the nightingale could gather so many people to attend her concert. The more the audience, the more would be the earning, which the nightingale was bound to pay to the frog as tuition fees. Moreover, he was happy that he succeeds in torturing the bird and pushing her towards death. However, it was bitter as he knew deep within his heart that the nightingale’s talent surpassed his own and thus, nobody as great as the present audience had ever come to hear him from far and wide. It was pure jealousy.
(d) Why was the frog angry?
Answer: The frog was angry because the nightingale had ceased to sing melodiously. Her song was so dull that no one liked it. This had suddenly crashed the income of frog.
(e) How did the frog become the unrivalled king of the bog again?
Answer:The frog became the unrivaled king of Bingle Bog, after the death of the nightingale. Now no bird or animal would compete with the frog in singing. Secondly, all of them over there were greatly scared of him.
f. Discuss the following questions and write the answers in your note-books.
(a) Bring out the irony in the frog’s statement – ‘Your song must be your own’.
Answer:Irony is a literary device which means the expression of one’s meaning by saying something which is the direct opposite of one’s thoughts. Earlier the frog tells the nightingale that she should not boast about on her original songs but later on he finds fault in the nightingale by saying: “Your song must be your own.” So there is an instance of irony in this statement.
(b) Do you think the end is justified?
Answer: The end faced by the innocent nightingale is pitiful yet justified. It portrays the truth where evil people have an upper-hand over the innocent ones. Thus, it is natural that the ‘innocence’ of the nightingale is killed by the ‘cruel and crafty designs’ of evil symbolised by the frog.
(c) Do you think the nightingale is ‘brainless’? Give reasons for your answer.
Answer: No, I don’t think the nightingale is brainless. Being simple, innocent, shy or dismissive doest not mean foolish. It is only being noble. She wanted to be a successful and accoladed singer. So, she accepted the frog’s advice of giving her vocal training. Her only fault was that she lacked confidence.
(d) In spite of having a melodious voice and being a crowd puller, the nightingale turns out to be a loser and dies. How far is she responsible for her own downfall?
Answer: The nightingale is, herself, responsible for her own downfall. She doesn’t use her capability to judge and evaluate sweet-tongued people. That why she is killed by the evil designs of the frog who ploys her to her death.
(e) Do you agree with the Frog’s inference of the Nightingale’s character? Give reasons for your answer.
Answer: Yes, I agree with the frog’s notion of the Nightingale’s character. Being flattered and submissive and timid, she invited her own death upon herself. She should have been able to see through the frog’s plots and reverted accordingly. However, her innocence didn’t allow her to evaluate the frog’s tricks.

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