The nightingale has totemic significance for me. Not only am I drawn to the symbolism of this bird of love and loss, it is also the name of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.
In 1859 Florence Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing, a book that is still considered a classic. In 1860 she opened the Nightingale School for Nurses whose mission was to train nurses to work in hospitals and to care for the poor. She was an advocate for women’s rights and argued strongly for the removal of restrictions that prevented women from having careers. Considering the severe constraints on the kinds of activities deemed suitable for women by Victorian society and ferocious male opposition, her achievements were truly remarkable.
Perhaps without Florence Nightingale my own life path would have been very different, one which could have denied me a fulfilling and successful career.
The nightingale also carries literary symbolism; not only does its song presage love, it is also a symbol of the connection between love and death. In Romeo and Juliet it signifies the lovers’ undying love for each other, but also that both are in mortal danger. It traditionally represents melancholy and joy, love and loss, and life and death.
The nightingale will sing for its mate all through the night and thus also symbolises the spiritual person practising love and visualisation. Its sweet song brings to light what is mysterious and hidden; it gives inspiration as the harbinger of a personal dawn. It guides the listener into connecting with old beliefs and thoughts and encourages her to take charge of her mind. What is learned in the night is to be incorporated into the day.
She shows us how to move through different levels of consciousness and use the inspiration of higher realms while keeping grounded. She teaches us to sing loudly – above the cacophony of the mind chatter and above what others think and say. Timid and shy at times, she can show us how to act with grace and elegance.
When it comes to parental love, the nightingale’s timidity changes to a brave ferocity. She demonstrates the balance between the two, asking us whether we are sharing what we know and acting what we believe. Those who have the power of the nightingale love poetry and music; they respond to its power to educate and inform without indoctrination.
Songs are used as a way of healing our souls and hearts. Music brings motivation and life to the depressed; it heals the wounds in our lives and soothes our spirit.