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Vikram Seth is a well-known poet in India. He was born in 1952 in Calcutta (Kolkata). The poem The Frog and the Nightingale is from his book of poems called Beastly tales from Here and There (1991). As the title makes it explicit that the poems are based on narratives from various parts of the world, Greece, China, India and Ukrain not to mention the fantasy world of Gup. The poems highlight the tension between good and evil. These tales in verse are simple to read and are like the fables, teaching important lessons of life. The poem under study portrays the cunning frog and the Naïve Nightingale who pays the price of her innocence by losing her purity, her originality and ultimately her life.
Gist of the Poem
Once upon a time a frog living in Bingle Bog (marshy area) croaked away in his unpleasant voice all night.The other creatures hated his voice and did everything in their power to make him quiet-threw sticks, stones, prayed, insulted, complained , threw bricks but all in vain. Nothing could stop the frog from minstrel ling (singing) all night in his harsh voice.One night his renditions were interrupted when a Nightingale perched itself on the Sumac Tree and burst into the most melodious song ever heard under the Sumac Tree. The other creatures of the Bingle Bog unused to such sweet voice heard her mesmerized by the beauty of the song. Creatures from all over the forest were drawn towards the bird’s song and asked for a repeat performance. Toads, Tiddlers, teals Ducks and Herons cheered her song. Not used to praise the Nightingale kept giving performance the whole night. Next night when the nightingale got ready for the performance (She had all the mannerisms of an artist-clearing of throat, adjusting the mike, her appearance).
The Frog made his presence felt introduced himself as the owner of the tree, known also for his deep voice and as a columnist for the Bog Trumpet (Magazine). Highly impressed by the Frog’s credentials, the Nightingale was too eager to hear about his opinion. The Frog without mincing any words criticized her art as a professional. Nightingale being too naïve believed and defended herself by claiming to be original. The Frog brushed her claims aside and told her in no uncertain terms that without his guidance she would be nobody.
Unable to hide her excitement at her good luck, the nightingale accepted the honour of being trained by a musician of repute!The frog made it very clear that he would be charging a modest fee but assuring her that she would be able to pay back. So the Nightingale began her career as a performer-infused with confidence, filled with a zest for performance and inspired by the fawning, sang and became a sensation overnight.
The magical quality of her song attracted creatures of the Bingle Bog from far and wide
The opportunist frog cashed on the crowd and started charging admission fee. The arrogant and heartless frog never let an opportunity to make the Nightingale realize who was in control. Without a care for the bad weather, he would order her to practice, push her to her limit. In his role of a patron he became a hard task master, pushing the Nightingale to the verge of collapse.
Day after Day this went on, the Nightingale now sleep deprived and exhausted went on performing.The Sumac tree of Bingle Bog was humbled (honoured)by the presence of the elite of the Bingle Bog (Poet is being sarcastic about people who come to see musical performance only for the sake of showing off jewels, without little bit of interest in the art. Employing the pun on words the poet lists few royal titles-Duke, Count, Cardinal, Mallord, Earl who visited the Sumac tree to hear the Nightingale perform. On one hand the Frog was happy as his business was so profitable on the other hand he was jealous of the success of the Nightingale. His greed made him unreasonable, every day he would point out her flaws, criticized her singing, advised her on the technique; remind her of her goal of being successful and how much she owed him.
This constant badgering by the Frog robbed the Nightingale of her creativity. She started sounding bored, uninspired and no amount of mannerism could revive the audience. The cash collection started falling and the disinterested applause of few who still were coming gave her no happiness. It made her sorrowful and depressed. The frog was livid as his business was getting affected. He lost his temper and became cruel.He asked her to follow trends and give the people what they wanted. The Nightingale tried very hard, collected her wits about her, performed but alas she burst a vein and collapsed. The calculative Frog quickly washed his hands off the Nightingale. He pointed out how the Nightingale was a stupid creature, he tried to teach her but she was very nervous, easy on the ear and gullible. He became a little brazen as he pointed out the Bird should have known that one’s song should be one’s own (meaning -You can’t let other people dictate your life. She should have known when to say no.)The manipulative Frog not only cleared himself of all responsibility of the Bird’s death but also made it appear that the bird was responsible for her death. He projects himself as a confident, practical and wise creature who sings with a élan! Hence the Frog resumed his position in the Bog and continued to blare out in his harsh and unpleasant voice undisputed and unrivalled. The moral of the poem is that one has to pay for one’s gullibility. Being inspired and influenced by someone unknown and stranger is indeed a foolish work. The nightingale had to suffer for her misjudgment. If our self-image is based on what others make us believe we are, we will always be misguided. It is important to know your own worth. The Nightingale’s gullible servile nature results in her tragic death. The pompous, scheming frog plans her destruction after winning her trust. Lack of confidence and good judgement of character can bring misery from which there is no escape.
He has been portrayed as arrogant, pompous, haughty, patronizing,
opportunist, condescending and boastful.
He is used to his position of the only singer of the Bingle Bog
The entry of the melodious nightingale is an eye opener
Being practical and worldly wise he uses his position to influence her
He impresses upon her his superiority by discussing her art condescendingly
He manipulates the situation to his advantage, starts making profit by charging admission fee.
His haughtiness is evident when he doesn’t tolerate any slips on the nightingale’s part.
He gradually works on the nightingale’s weakness- of being rich and Famous (downfall of many)
A smooth talker brushes away the blame of nightingale’s death by
philosophising it that ‘your song must be your own’ Nightingale
She is portrayed as the innocent, naïve, gullible, polite, unsure, timid, shy and nervous type.
The taste of appreciation enhances her self-esteem making her gullible.
The desire to impress makes her blind to the faults of the frog.
Her purity, originality and piousness get shadowed by the greed for status and commercial success.
Trapped in the vicious circle of success, she pushes herself to a point of exhaustion.
Addicted to her status, unable to get out of the clutches of the frog she tries-
The misguided efforts result in her death.
1. Read the given stanzas and choose the correct option from the list of options given:
Trembling, terrified to fail,
Blind with tears, the nightingale
Heard him out in silence, tried,
Puffed up, burst a vein, and died.
1. The nightingale was terrified of:
(a) failure(b) humiliation ( c) losing her confidence(d) frog’s anger
2. The most appropriate word that describes the nightingale’s character is:
(a) foolish (b) diffidence (c) humble (d) obedient
3. The nightingale died due to:
(a) lack of sleep (b) bursting of a vein (c) humiliation (d) grief
(a)frog’s anger (b)foolish (c) bursting of a vein
2. Well, poor bird she should have known
That your song must be your own
That’s why I sing with panache :
And the foghorn of the frog
Blared unrivalled through the bog
(a) The nightingale is referred to as a poor bird because she __________.
(a) couldn tearnmuchmoney
(b) couldn timpress heraudience
(c) died due to humiliation
(d) wastooprone toinfluenceand was foolish
(b)The meaning of the word ‘Panache’
(1)Lack of confidence
(2) very confident
(4)very loud sound
(c) The traits of the frog reflected in the poem are__________
(a) she was toopronetoinfluence andwas foolish
(b) very confident
(c) cunningness andcruelty
3. Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog
And the whole admiring bog
Stared towards the sumac, rapt
And, when she had ended, clapped
1. The animals of the Bog were dumbstruck because——
(a) The frog sang very well
(b) The nightingale sang melodiously
(c) The moon shone brightly
(d) All the animals came to the same place
2. “Whole Admiring Bog” means———
(a) Creatures of the bog who hated the nightingale’s song
(b) Creatures of the bog who liked the frog’s song
(c) Creatures of the bog who admired the nightingale’s song
3. Everyone stared at the sumac because————–
(a) The frog was speechless
(b) The nightingale had perched on it
(c) The nightingale was sitting and singing melodiously in her sweet voice
(a) The nightingale sang melodiously
(b) Creatures of the bog who admired the nightingales
(c) The nightingale was sitting and singing melodiously in her sweet voice
3. Answer in 30-40 words:
(a) How did the frog benefit from the nightingale’s song?
(b) How did the frog train the nightingale in her singing?
(c) What is your impression about the frog in the poem?
a) The nightingale sang melodiously. All the creatures came to listen to her singing.The wily frog charged admission fee from all of them. The frog made a lot of money,as everyone admired the nightingale’s song.He also sold his songs to the nightingaleand made money. In this way he got benefitted from the nightingale’s song.
b) The training began on a rainy day. He coaxed her to sing, although she was quite unused to singing in that weather. He told her to journey up and down the scales of musical notes for six hours, without giving her any rest, till her voice became hoarse and trembling.He advised her to put on her scarf and sash as this would help her to sing in the weather. He also charged her a fee and told her to practice for a longer time each day till her voice, like his own, grew stronger.
c) The frog is an arrogant creature. All the creatures of the bog loath his song. Even prayers or bricks fail to silence him. He considers himself as the master of the bog. He is proud of his voice. He is jealous of the nightingale’s popularity and is determined to remove her from the scene, and even succeeds. He is heartless.
Based on your understanding of the poem, choose the correct options for the following:
1. So the Nightingale once more,
Quite unused to such applause,
Sang till dawn without a pause.
a) The nightingale was not used to so much appreciation as
i. She had had no audience before
ii. She was a no body so far
iii. This was her first performance
iv. She was unaware of her musical talent
b) The creatures of the Bingle Bog requested her for another song as
i. They were tired of listening to the unpleasant notes of the frog
ii. They were all free and wanted to be entertained
iii. Her musical notes were a welcome change
iv. The frog was on a holiday
c) The nightingale’s song made the frog think about
i. Ways of insulting the nightingale
ii. How ungrateful were the creatures of Bingle Bog
iii. How to take advantage of the situation
iv. Ways of teaching a lesson to the creatures of Bingle Bog
2. That a critic of such note
Had discussed her art and throat
“I don’t think the song is divine,
But- oh, well at least it’s mine”
a) The ‘critic’s claim for his reputation was that he
i. Was known for his singing.
ii. Was owner of the tree.
iii. Writes for the bog trumpet.
iv. Reflects his arrogance.
b) The nightingale is apologetic about her song as
i. The frog did not like it
ii. It was copied from some where
iii. The frog had pointed out the technical flaws
iv. The nightingale lacked confidence
c) Her claim that ‘at least it’s mine” implies that
i. The song was original
ii. She was proud of it
iii. She wanted to show off
iv. She was confident
3. “But I can’t sing in this weather”
“Come my dear-we’ll sing together.
—-So the frog and nightingale
Journeyed up and down the scale
a) The nightingale resists the frog’s suggestion as
i. It was very hot
ii. It was raining
iii. It was very humid
iv. It was very cold
b) The way frog brushes away her excuses reflects his
ii. Hard task master
c) Journeyed up and down the scale’ means
i. Travel in Bingle Bog
ii. Travelling up and down the tree
iii. Singing on different notes
iv. Popularity ratings
4. Day by day the nightingale
Grew more sorrowful and pale
Night on Night her tired song—-
Till the birds and the beasts grew tired
a) The nightingale was growing sad and pale as
i. The frog was always criticizing her
ii. He was making her practice for long hours
iii. She was afraid of displeasing her
iv. She felt trapped
b) The birds and the beasts grew tired of
i. Waiting for the nightingale
ii. Paying the frog
iii. Uninspired songs of the nightingale
iv. Nightingale’s repetitive performance
c) The effect of nightingale’s substandard performance was
i. The creatures started going to the frog’s performance
ii. The creatures did not appreciate her performance
iii. The gross collection at the ticket office fell down
iv. The nightingale stopped singing
5. Dumbstruck sat the gaping frog,
And the admiring bog
Stared towards the sumac, rapt,
And when she had ended, clapped
(a)She in the above lines refers to the __________.
(i) duck (ii) heron
(iii) nightingale (iv) cuckoo
(i) he had never heardsuchamelodiousvoice
(ii) he had never seen such a beautifulbird.
(iii) ahugecrowd hadgathered to listen to hisvoice.
(iv) he was beingawarded for hisbeautiful voice.
(i) thefrog had toldthem to do so.
(ii) thewhole bog wasin thehabit of clapping
(iii) shesang really very well
(iv) shewasreallyvery beautiful andsmart
II) Short answer questions in about 30-40 words: (2 marks each)
Based on your reading of the poem answer the following questions briefly:
1. In spite of the frog’s crass cacophony how could he emerge as the winner?
2. What chance incident brought some respite to the creatures of Bingle Bog?
3. How did the frog encash on the nightingale’s popularity?
4. What characteristics helped the frog to overpower the Nightingale?
5. What piece of advice did the frog give to the nightingale to improvise her singing?
6. Why do you think the nightingale lost her appeal for the masses?
7. How did the celebrity status affect the nightingale?
8. What do you think the nightingale was afraid of?
9. In what sense was the nightingale a stupid creature?
10. How did the frog become the unrivalled king of the Bog?
11. “Every day the frog who’d sold her Songs for silver, tried to scold her.”
a) What actually made the frog scold her
b) What does ‘silver’ stand for.?
c) Contrast the nature of the frog and the nightingale in the light of the above lines.
12. And a solitary loon
Wept beneath the summer moon
Toads and teals and tiddlers captured
By her voice, cheered on, enraptured
Bravo! Too Divine! Encore
a) Who are the two characters in this story in verse?
b) What is such a poem called?
c) What two tall claims did the frog make?
d) Which tree did the frog own and what did he do there?
13. This is a fairy tale,
And you’re Mozart in disguise
Come to earth before my eyes.
a) Who is the speaker of the above lines?
b) Who is Mozart in disguise?
c) What comparison does the speaker wish to draw here?
14. Did you— did you like my song?
Not too bad– but far too long.
The technique was fine, of course,
But it lacked a certain force.
(a) What flaw did the frog find in the nightingale’s song?
(b) What impression do you form about the frog?
(c) What is your opinion about the nightingale?
III Long answer questions in about 100-150 words:
1. Do you think nightingale was responsible for her own death? Substantiate youranswer with examples from the poem
2. Taking the nightingale as a protégée was a ploy employed by the frog to save his position. Comment
3. The poem is an example of how professional rivalry can play with the lives of people. Elaborate.
4. Bring out the symbolism as used by the poet in the poem “The frog and the Nightingale”
5.Write the theme of the poem in 100 words. Use the given hints:
Simple poem– great moral—- theme – talented but meek and servile– easily influenced—talent and person—soon destroyed. Nightingale symbol of meekness – has talent—frog—- selfish- haughty– arrogant. Nightingale– no confidence– comes under frogs influence
6. How did the arrival of the nightingale affect the frog?
7. How did the frog kill the nightingale without any blame on him?
8. The frog was boastful and insensitive. Give reasons for your answer.
9. Think upon the gender bias and suppression in the poem (for appreciation)
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