Ode to Nightingale by John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale is one of the finest Odes of John Keats. Listening to the nightingale’s song, the poet is obsessed by its beauty and joy. He wishes to escape to the world of the forest so that he may be free from the worries and sorrows of daily human life. The sensuous quality of Keats’ poetry is highlighted when he describes the natural beauty of early summer is Stanza 4. It this moment of ecstasy, when the nightingale is singing he longs for “easeful death”. In the concluding stanzas as the song of the nightingale fades away, the poet returns to the real world with joy.

About the Poem

Ode to a Nightingale” is a poem written in May 1819 by John Keats either in the garden of the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead, London or, according to Keats ‘ friend Charles Armitage Brown, in the garden of Keats House, also in Hampstead, under a plum tree. A nightingale had constructed his nest close his home in the spring of 1819, according to Brown. Keats composed the poem in one day, inspired by the song of the bird. It quickly became one of his odes in 1819 and was first released the following July in Annals of the Fine Arts. “Ode to a Nightingale” is a private poem describing the voyage of Keats into the state of Negative Capability.

The poem presents Keats’s ‘unappeased craving for permanence, his failure to escape the mutable world and die into a higher life.’ The speaker (the poet) is overpowered by the spontaneous melodious song of a nightingale, he hopes to follow it into the forest dim, leaving behind the spectacle of human death, suffering, fret, and fever, and die so as to perpetuate the ecstatic moment. The poet on the viewless wings of poesy moves into ‘the eternal realm of song’ and is able to feel the charm of the embalmed beauty of nature and experience and visualise the magical effect of the song of this immortal bird not only on himself but also in remote times on Ruth, Kings, Clowns and the maidens imprisoned in the castles located on the shores of perilous seas.

The poet is transported to a world of eternal joy and immortality, his return to actuality is very shattering. The nightingale impresses upon him the consciousness of his own mortality and sharpens the contrast between sensation and thought. The poem also highlights the contrast between the raptures of the bird’s song and consecutive reasoning of the perplexing and retarding “dull brain.” Like the “Ode to Psyche” this ”Ode on a Nightingale” extols the autonomous power of imagination which can create ‘beauty as a compensation of the life’s losses’. The bird’s song also reveals how beauty consists of ‘the ecstasy’ (158) of fulfilment as well as the “plaintive note” of disillusion. If Keats suspects the power of visionary experience in the “Ode to Psyche”, in this Ode he is unable to sustain the ecstasy of that experience till the end of the poem and he is forced to return to the actual world, from the realm of fancy.

The ending of the poem—Do I wake or sleep—undermines the poet’s song-inspired visionary flight and casts doubt on the whole nightingale episode. Critics call the Ode ‘a reverie, in spite of the fact that Keats had actually heard a nightingale’s song from ‘their Hamstead home and the bird’s song, had inspired him to write this Ode.’ (Brown’s letter in Keats’s Circle II, 65).”

Summary of ‘ Ode to Nightingale ‘


Keats listens to the song of the nightingale. He feels extremely happy at its singing. He experiences an aching pleasure, a pleasure felt as pain. He seems to have forgotten his surroundings. The poet longs for a cup of wine to escape into the happy world of the nightingale. He is then acutely reminded of the tragedy of human for the fever and fret of life. Keats then seeks the help of poetic imagination. With Poesy, he finds himself transported into the world of the nightingale which has all the beauty of early summer. His happiness is intense and he is completely lost in that happy world.

Ode to Nightingale by John Keats.

Ode to Nightingale

The pleasure that he feels is so rich and true that he wants to make this luxurious moment a permanent one. So he yearns for death. ‘It is rich to die’ in that temporary heaven. It would be a luxurious experience for him because the nightingale is singing in ecstasy and he would die listening to it. Thus death would become a boon, a positive, healthy experience for Keats now. Soon he realizes the impossibility of the fulfilment of his desire. The idea of death reminds him strikingly of the immortality of the bird (its song), nature’s music as contrasted with human mortality (change and decay). The nightingale is immortal in the sense that its song knows no death. The beauty and joy of the nightingale’s song do not change with the passage of time. Its song is the same today as it was heard ages back, by kings and peasants, by Ruth, the Moabite woman in the days of the Old Testament and by princesses in forlorn fairyland in the middle ages of magic and romance. So the song of the nightingale knows no historical or geographical limits. The closing of the 7th stanza with the word lorlon’ wakes him up from the world of poetry. He realises that he cannot escape from the realities of the world as easily as he had desired and pretended to. He bids the bird good-bye and imagines the bird fading away into distant lands. The poet returns to the realities of life, somewhat dazed. He is uncertain what is real—the little happiness that he was lulled into or this dull life he was living.


Read also: Analysis and Study Guide of Ode to Nightingale


Critical Analysis of the Poem


“Ode to a Nightingale” is a standard ode. Each of the eight stanzas has ten pentameter lines and a consistent rhyme scheme. Although the poem has a regular form, it has the feel of a rhapsody; Keats is expressing his thoughts and emotions freely. One thought leads to another, and the poem comes to a somewhat arbitrary conclusion as a result. The reader is impressed by the poem because it is the result of free inspiration unfettered by a preconceived plan. The poem depicts Keats in the act of sharing an experience with the reader rather than recalling an experience. The experience is not entirely logical. It is what occurs in his mind while listening to a nightingale’s song.

In the ode, three main ideas stand out. The first is Keats’ assessment of life; life is a valley of tears and frustration. The happiness Keats hears in the song of the nightingale makes him happy for a moment, but it is followed by a feeling of torpor, which is followed by the conviction that life is not only painful but also intolerable. Hearing the nightingale gave him a taste of happiness, but it also made him more aware of life’s unhappiness. Keats wishes to escape from life, not through wine, but through a much more powerful agent, the imagination.

The poem’s second main thought and theme is Keats’ wish to die and be rid of life entirely, provided he could die as easily and painlessly as he could fall asleep. The preoccupation with death does not appear to have been triggered by any change in Keats’ fortunes at the time he wrote the ode (May 1819). Keats’ life had been unsatisfactory in many ways for some time before he wrote the poem. His family life was shattered by the departure of one brother to America and the death of the other from tuberculosis. His second poetry collection had received negative feedback. He had no job and no prospects since he had dropped out of medical school. His financial situation was precarious. He had not been feeling well in the fall and winter of 1818-19, and he may have had tuberculosis at the time. He could not marry Fanny Brawne because he could not financially support her. Thus, the death-wish in the ode could be a reaction to a slew of problems and disappointments that he was still dealing with. The weight of life pressing down on him forced him to sing “Ode to a Nightingale” Keats expressed a desire for “easeful Death,” on several occasions, but when he was in the final stages of tuberculosis, he fought death by travelling to Italy in the hope that the climate would cure him. The death-wish in the ode is a fleeting but recurring attitude toward a life that was unsatisfactory in so many ways.

The ode’s third major thought is the power of imagination or fancy. (Keats makes no clear distinction between the two.) In the ode, Keats rejects wine in favour of poetry, the product of imagination, in order to identify his existence with that of the happy nightingale. However, poetry does not work as it should. He soon finds himself back in his normal, troubled self. In the final stanza, he admits that “fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam’d to do,” The imagination is not the all-powerful function that Keats thought it was at times. It can only provide a temporary reprieve from the stresses of everyday life.

Keats’ assignment of immortality to the nightingale in stanza VII has caused much consternation among readers. Keats could have been referring to a literal nightingale, but he was more likely referring to the nightingale as a symbol of poetry that endures.

Keats’ evocative power is especially evident in stanza II, where he associates a beaker of wine “with beaded bubbles winking at the brim,” with sunny France and the harvesters’ “sunburnt mirth” and in stanza VII, where he depicts Ruth suffering from homesickness “amid the alien corn.” The entire ode is a triumph of the tonal richness of that adagio verbal music that is Keats’ unique contribution to the many voices of poetry.

Study Notes | Explanation of Poem

Stanza I

Keats describes here the effect of the song of the nightingale upon his mind. As the poet listens to the song of the nightingale, his heartaches.
It is a feeling experienced due to excessive joy at the bird’s song. That is so to say, the happiness that he shares is so intense that it becomes an aching pleasure, a pleasure felt as pain.

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The poet feels that a numbness creeps over him—that his senses have been paralyzed as if he had taken some sleep-inducing drink (narcotic) like hemlock or some sedative drink made from opium. This again is due to excessive happiness at the bird’s song, the joy that he feels overpowers his senses. In a minute the poet seems to forget his surroundings and is rapt in the song of the nightingale. He feels as if he had sunk into Lethe (the river of forgetfulness in Greek and Roman mythology, one of the rivers of the underworld or Hades).

The souls of the dead, according to ancient Greek belief, had to drink from Lethe before they entered the Hades, the home of the dead.

The aching pleasure that the poet feels is not because he is envious of the bird singing so joyously but because he feels too happy in the happiness of the nightingale. The result is that he is completely lost in it.

The poet loves the bird as it sings like a Dryad (wood nymph) who is supposed to be the presiding deity of the forest in Greek mythology. The poet regards the bird as the spirit of joy that is found in the woodland world. The poet imagines the nightingale to be a spirit of the wood-land singing of the glories of summer so spontaneously in some “far off scene, of woodland mystery and beauty”.

Stanza II

The Poet shows an intense desire to escape or pass into the delightful world of the nightingale, leaving the miserable world of the Man. He seeks the help of wine to effect this escape.

Keats longs for a draught of the richest wine, rare old wine cooled in the deep cellars of the earth for long years. It should be rich with the romantic spirit of the spring-season when festivities are held in honour of Flora, the goddess of spring, by the grape gatherers in the warmer regions of Southern France (Provence).

In other words, the wine that the poet would like to drink should be rich with its associations of the rustic and merry-making activities like song and dance held in honour of Flora in the country green (the village common) by the sunburnt Italian and French grape gatherers. Italy and Provence being in South of Europe are comparatively warm hence the natives of these regions are ‘sunburnt’ as we Indians are. People in southern regions of Europe are more cheerful and romantic because the climate itself is inspiring these qualities.

The poet desires for a beaker full of the wine of the fountain of Hippocrene with the bubbles I shining at the surface and even the mouth of the beaker may be stained with the purple or red colour of the wine.


Note: “The poet desired wine as a means of escape from the pain of his own thoughts and of the world”. By drinking the wine Keats hopes to be absorbed wholly in the nightingale’s song and thus be happy with the bird in the shady wood.


We have an abundance of sensuous imagery in this stanza where the poet expresses a passionate desire for some Provencal wine or wine from the fountain of muses. The original and highly expressive phrases like “blushful Hippocrene, `beaded bubbles Winking at the brim’, ’embalmed darkness’, ” are highly pleasing to the sense of sight and sense of taste. Matthew Arnold says, “Keats as a poet is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous”.

Stanza III

Pain and misery of life are depicted. The stanza starts with the poet’s intense longing to escape from the world of pain and misery and to become one with the bird and its happy woodland life. In the very effort to forget his own misery or melancholy, Keats remembers only too acutely, the universal tragedy of human destiny, the ills that assail life from all quarters sparing neither age nor sex nor beauty. Man suffers from boredom, disgust, and despair, from irritation and feverish excitement. Misery is widespread.

People helplessly hear each other groan. All those things which we value most—youth, beauty, and love are subject to disease and decay. A thinking person is subject to grief and trouble. Keats feels bitter that Love and Beauty,-the two things that he desired most are short-lived. The thought of it fills him with sadness.

Stanza IV

Gloomy thoughts about human destiny are soon dismissed together with the possibility of wine as an escape from them. Soon, the vehicle of flight is no longer wine but poetic fancy or imagination. He is already with the nightingale among the branches of trees in a summer garden hidden from the light of the moon who like a fairy queen holds her court in the sky surrounded by her courtiers i.e. the stars. [Poetic imagination helps the poet to pass from the real world to the ideal world.] Although the moon is shining in majestic glory in the sky, it is only when the night breezes sway the branches and part the leaves that the gleams of moonlight somewhat lessen the darkness under the trees full of green foliage and along the zigzag moss-covered paths between them.

Stanza V

The poet is already with the bird in the forest in imagination. The place is dark but filled with the perfume from the flowers growing on the bushes around his feet. Though he cannot see, from the scent emanating from the flowers he can guess what flowers are at his feet or what blossoms are above his head. He can feel more than the sensory eye can see. The atmosphere is filled with the sweet fragrance of flowers. From the sweet smell, he can name several flowers and plants that bloom there. He calls the darkness ’embalmed darkness.’ He guesses that the white hawthorn, the eglantine, the violet, the wild fruit trees, the first flower of mid-summer (middle of May) the musk rose which is soon to blossom and which is full of dew and honey to which the buzzing bees are attracted by its fragrance, are around the place.

The poem was most probably written in early May.

Stanza V shows the delighted response to the sensuous beauty of the physical world. The poet is not describing what he actually sees around him. He tells us explicitly that there is no light for him to distinguish the flowers growing on the ground and the blossoms on the trees and hedges. He can only guess what they are from their scents.

Notice that ‘soft incense’, ’embalmed darkness’, ‘dewy wine’, ‘seasonable month’, are word pictures. Only Keats who is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous can convert incense and perfume into something virtually solid. In this stanza, we can say he has woven around scent, warmth, colour, taste, and sound into a texture of unforgettable beauty.

Stanza VI

While listening to the song of the nightingale in the dark, the poet. feels that it would be ‘a luxurious experience’ to die at such a moment, to fade away from existence without suffering any pain at the mystic hour of midnight while listening to the rapturous and ecstatic song of the nightingale. In fact, the poet wants to perpetuate this moment of enchantment, and ecstasy. It is rich to die now for the nightingale’s song will be a funeral prayer for Keats and he will die listening to it. The nightingale would go on singing even when he is dead and can no longer hear it.

Stanza VII

The idea of death gradually brings him back to reality. The process starts in stanza 7 and ends in stanza 8.

The poet calls the nightingale an immortal bird. The nightingale has now been transformed into a symbol of its race and the song of the nightingale heard by countless generations over centuries is symbolised by its permanence. The poet here means that the song or voice of the nightingale carries the same freshness and music as it did in the past and it will continue to do so in future (though this particular bird will die).

Generations of nightingales follow one another, and they remain immortal in their songs, their song is as sweet and charming today as it was in ancient days, in the Bible-history or even in .fairy romance.

The song of the nightingale that the poet now hears is exactly the same song that was heard in ancient times. It is this characteristic that makes the poet give the title of immortality to the nightingale.

The bird’s song opens. the flood-gates of the poet’s memory and takes him into the far-off age of legendary romance. It is the same song that the nightingale has been pouring out since the beginning of the world, the same song which in ancient days must have been heard by king and peasant alike; the same song which Ruth heard when she stood sad and lonely in the cornfield of a strange land; the same song to hear which maidens dwelling in magic castles, must have opened their casement windows in desolate fairylands. The magical effect of the song has been highlighted.

These castles are built on rocks of stormy seas in forlorn fairyland. The song of the nightingale must have cheered the heart of a disconsolate princess held in duress by her demon lover.

Ruth, a woman of Moab, was married to a Jew in Moab whose father had come from Bethlehem of Judea. After her husband died, she migrated with her mother-in-law Naomi to the distant ancestral land of Judea i.e., Bethlehem. There she began to glean corns of barley left by the reapers in the field of Boaz, a distant relation of her father-in-law. He treated her kindly and afterwards married her.

The Bible story does not say that Ruth was homesick or sad, but this would be natural even if the sense of duty to her mother-in-law had led her to leave her home.

The poet explains why he considers the nightingale immortal. In Romantic stories like Arabian Nights, we hear of enchanted castles in which princesses are imprisoned in magic castles and their magic windows open on the stormy waves of a wild sea; opening and shutting automatically by magic. As the nightingale passes over the enchanted castle singing its magic song, windows open of themselves to allow some imprisoned princess to hear its song.
fairylands forlorn: some far off deserted uninhabited lands of the fairies or legendary countries of romance as in the Arabian Nights.

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We see the voice of the nightingale is made immune first to history than to geography; it can establish a rapport with dead generations of fairylands.

Stanza VIII

The mood of exaltation is over. The use or thought of the word `forlorn’ acts like a rude reminder to the poet of his own forlorn or solitary condition (Mention of the word ‘forlorn’ has broken the spell of imagination). The word has brought him back to reality. It is just like the tolling of a bell that reminds him of some forgotten work. It reminds the poet of the realities of life which he had forgotten on account of the nightingale’s song.

The poet finds that after all the powers of fancy are exaggerated. Man cannot ignore the sad realities of life even with the help of fancy or imagination. As the spell of imagination breaks, the poet feels that the bird has flown away and he bids good-bye to the nightingale. He is disappointed in man’s imaginative faculty, which is commonly believed to have great powers of making people forget themselves and their surroundings. In his case, the spell of imagination has been short-lived, he is already awake to the sad realities of life.

The poet is not sure whether he had been seeing a vision in sleep or dreaming while awake.

“Was it a vision of a waking dream? Fled is that music. Do I wake or sleep?” There is at least one clear change in the situation. He has ceased to hear the nightingale’s song. How is he to explain this?

Theme of Ode to a Nightingale

The poem “Ode to a Nightingale” depicts a series of clashes between reality and the Romantic ideal of union with nature. “The principal stress of the poem is a struggle between ideal and actual: inclusive terms which, however, contain more particular antitheses of pleasure and pain, of imagination and common sense reason, of fullness and privation, of permanence and change, of nature and the human, of art and life, freedom and bondage, waking and dream.” writes Richard Fogle. Of course, the nightingale’s song is the ode’s most prominent image and “voice” In the poem, the nightingale is also the subject of sympathy and praise. The nightingale, and the discussion of the nightingale, is about human experience in general, not just the bird or the song. This is not to say that the song is a simple metaphor; rather, it is a complex image formed by the conflicting voices of praise and questioning. “We are dealing with a talent, indeed an entire approach to poetry,” David Perkins says of “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “in which symbol, however necessary, may possibly not satisfy as the primary concern of poetry, any more than it could with Shakespeare, but is rather an element in the poetry and drama of human reactions.” The difference between an urn and a nightingale, however, is that the nightingale is not an eternal being. Furthermore, the narrator separates any possible union with the nightingale by making any aspect of the nightingale immortal during the poem.

In the poem, the nightingale’s song is linked to the art of music in the same way that the urn in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is linked to the art of sculpture. The nightingale, unlike the urn, represents an enchanting presence and is directly connected to nature. The song is for beauty and lacks a message of truth because it is natural music. In “The Nightingale” Keats follows Coleridge’s belief in separating from the world by losing himself in the bird’s song. Although Keats prefers a female nightingale to Coleridge’s masculine bird, both reject the nightingale’s traditional association with Philomela’s tragedy. Their songbird is a cheerful nightingale, as opposed to the melancholy nightingales depicted in previous poems. Although the bird is only a voice within the poem, it is a voice that compels the narrator to join in and forget about the world’s sorrows. However, there is tension because the narrator holds Keats responsible for the death of his brother, Tom Keats. The song’s ending represents an attempt to escape into the realm of fantasy.

Keats’ narrator listens to a bird song, similar to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark” but the song in “Ode to a Nightingale” is almost painful and similar to death. The narrator wants to be with the nightingale, so he gives up his sight in order to embrace the sound and share the darkness with the bird. The trance caused by the nightingale is broken at the end of the poem, and the narrator is left wondering if it was a real vision or a dream. The poem’s reliance on sleep is a common theme in Keats’ poems, and “Ode to a Nightingale” shares many of the same themes as Sleep and Poetry and Eve of St. Agnes. This further distinguishes the image of the nightingale’s song from the urn depicted in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” which is the closest comparable image. The nightingale is mysterious and distant, and she even vanishes at the end of the poem. The dream image emphasises the poem’s opacity and elusiveness. These elements make complete self-identification with the nightingale impossible, but they also allow for self-awareness to pervade the poem, albeit in a different form, throughout.

The poem’s two actions are split halfway through: the first attempts to identify with the nightingale and its song, while the second discusses the convergence of the past with the future while experiencing the present. This second theme is reminiscent of Keats’ view of human development in The Mansion of Many Apartments, in which man progresses from experiencing and desiring only pleasure to comprehending truth as a mixture of pleasure and pain. In the first half of the poem, the Elysian fields and the nightingale’s song represent pleasurable moments that overwhelm the individual like a drug. The pleasure, however, does not last indefinitely, and the body is left desiring it until the narrator feels helpless without it. Instead of facing the inevitable truth, the narrator seeks refuge in poetry to avoid the loss of pleasure. Poetry does not provide the narrator with the pleasure he seeks, but it does free him from his desire for only pleasure.

Albert Guerard, Jr., in response to this emphasis on pleasure, claims that the poem contains a “longing not for art but for any kind of free reverie.” The poem’s form is progression by association, which means that the flow of emotion is at the mercy of words evoked by chance, such as fade and forlorn, the very words that, like a bell, ring the dreamer back to his sole self.” Guerard’s terms are “associational translations” according to Fogle, who believes Guerard misunderstands Keats’ aesthetic. After all, by the end of the poem, the acceptance of the loss of pleasure is an acceptance of life and, by extension, death. Because he was exposed to the death of his family members throughout his life, death was a constant theme that pervaded aspects of Keats poetry. Many images of death appear throughout the poem. The nightingale, like the god Apollo, dies, but his death reveals his divine state; as Perkins explains, “Of course, the nightingale is not thought to be literally dying.” The point is that the nightingale, like the deity, can sing without dying. Man, however, cannot “or at least not in a visionary way.” as the ode makes clear.

According to Claude Finney, the poem describes “the inadequacy of the romantic escape from the world of reality to the world of ideal beauty” with this theme of loss of pleasure and inevitable death. Earl Wasserman essentially agrees with Finney, but goes on to say that “the core of the poem is the search for the mystery, the unsuccessful quest for the light within its darkness,” which “leads only to an increasing darkness, or a growing recognition of how impenetrable the mystery is to mortals,” and that “this leads only to an increasing darkness, or a growing recognition of how impenetrable the mystery is to mortals.” With these viewpoints in mind, the poem recalls and rejects Keats’ earlier views of pleasure and an optimistic view of poetry, which can be found in his earlier poems, particularly Sleep and Poetry. The poem takes on a dark tone as a result of the loss of pleasure and incorporation of death imagery, which links “Ode to a Nightingale” to Keats’ other poems about the demonic nature of poetic imagination, such as Lamia.

In the poem, Keats imagines the death of the physical world and sees himself as a “sod” over which the nightingale sings, using an abrupt, almost brutal word for death. A stretch of the imagination heightens the contrast between the immortal nightingale and the mortal man sitting in his garden.

With “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats’ speaker embarks on his most comprehensive and in-depth examination of the themes of creative expression and human mortality. The ode contrasts the eternal renewal of the nightingale’s fluid music (“where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin, and dies”) with the transience of life and the tragedy of old age (“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!”). Whereas in “Ode on Indolence,” the speaker’s “drowsy numbness” was a sign of disconnection from experience, in “Nightingale,” it is a sign of too full a connection: “being too happy in thine happiness,” as the speaker tells the nightingale. When the nightingale sings, the speaker wishes to leave the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to drink himself into a state similar to that of a bird. He longs for a “draught of vintage” to transport him out of himself in the second stanza. However, after reflecting on the transience of life in the third stanza, he rejects the idea of being “charioted by Bacchus and his pards” (Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and was said to have been carried by a chariot drawn by leopards) and instead embraces “Indolence” for the first time since refusing to follow the figures in “the viewless wings of Poesy.”

In stanzas 5–7, the speaker can imagine himself with the nightingale in the darkened forest, thanks to the rapture of poetic inspiration, which matches the endless creative rapture of the nightingale’s music. Even the speaker is encouraged by the ecstatic music to embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the nightingale’s music and never experiencing any more pain or disappointment. But when his meditation leads him to utter the word “forlorn,” he recognises his fancy for what it is: an imagined escape from the unavoidable (“Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf”). As the nightingale flies away, the speaker is shaken by the intensity of his experience, unsure whether he is awake or asleep.

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Questions and Answers of Ode to Nightingale

1. To who or what is the speaker addressing in the poem?

Answer: The speaker is addressing his poem to a nightingale he hears singing in a forest.

2. In the third stanza, the speaker announces, “Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.” What other poet presented in this anthology shares the speaker’s idea that youth and innocence dies with age and experience?

Answer: The theme of innocence and experience is most evident in the poetry of William Blake.

3. How will the poet follow the nightingale, according to the fourth stanza?

Answer: The speaker will follow the nightingale through his poetry, not through alcohol.

4. In Stanza VII, find and record an example of an allusion.

Answer: The allusion in this stanza is to the book of Ruth in the Bible.

5. How does the speaker react to the bird’s flight at the end of the poem?

Answer: The speaker, upon losing hearing of the bird’s song, questions whether he is awake or asleep.

6. How does the tone of this poem differ from the tone found in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To A Skylark?”

Answer: Shelley’s “To A Skylark” has a positive tone that praises the beauty and power of the bird. It is filled with longing; the speaker wishes he could know what inspires the skylark to sing so wonderfully so he could be inspired also. It ends with the speaker’s request to be taught how to sing, so that he may share the song with the world.

This poem of Keats’ has a darker tone. The poem begins with the speaker describing his heartache, and a frustrated, forlorn tone continues through most stanzas. This poem ends with the speaker wishing the bird away, and then wondering whether seeing it was a dream.

A Critical Analysis of the “Ode”.

The poem consists of eight stanzas. In the first stanza, we find the speaker ‘benumbed, drained, as it were of all sensation through listening to the nightingale’s song’. Yet paradoxically he experiences pain and heartache. Then he claims to share in the bird’s song. The joy pain paradox, which he in his “Ode to Melancholy” asserts to be an essential characteristic of human existence, has a deeper meaning in the context of the “Ode to a Nightingale”. The poet’s (speaker’s) happiness in empathy with the bird is so intense and profound that it verges on pain. Their painful happiness crosses all limits so he feels exhausted and overcome by “drowsy numbness”. He is not envious of the bird’s ‘happy lot’, he can imaginatively participate in it. He also realises that his desire to join the nightingale may be eventually thwarted; he cannot avoid ‘envy’ as he longs for ‘the unearthly felicity enjoyed by the “Dryad of the trees”. The happiness is caused by ‘the momentarily shared ecstasy’, the pain is due to ‘the fore-knowledge of the ultimate frustration. Similarly, conscious cuts with pain across the drugged numbness of the opening lines before it temporarily recedes to make room for the empathetic identification with the bird’s “full-throated ease”.”

E.C. Pettet has demonstrated how the dull-half rhyming nasals of the opening quatrain, interrupted by assonance of the a in aches and pains and modulating into clean ringing long e and o sounds of trees, melodious beechen green and ‘full-throated ease” at the end of the stanza, reflect the speaker’s pain and numbness in contrast with the bird’s happiness. The Oxymoron of painful numbness and implied paradox of drugged happiness convey a peculiar state completely cut off from reality, with the poet poised for the visionary flight.

The speaker in the next stanza explicitly mentions his. the impulse to journey into the happy realm of the ‘nightingale and wine will be the vehicle. The poet’s throat wisher for a draught of vintage”, which brings into play all the five senses. First, we have ‘the complex synaesthetic imagery which conjures up the warm mirthful song and dance of Provencal in the cool taste and bubbling sound of the wine and the seductive, sensual blushing of Hippocrene. The imagery suggests that only through the life of senses one could journey into transcendence. Note the blushful Hippocrene is the fountain of the everlasting Muses and symbol of poetic inspiration. The speaker with the help of wine would like to journey the realm of the immortals—the home of the Nightingale, away from the actual world.’

In the third stanza, the speaker presents ‘the ode’s dialectic pattern by contrasting the imagined ideal world with our temporal world of human wretchedness.’ Here in this world a fatally ill youth like Torn Keats “with an exquisite love of life” falls into “a lingering state”. (Keats’s Letters I, 293) and “grows pale and spectre thin and dies”. Some critics have disparaged this stanza as “bad rhetoric” or attributed “weakness” to Keats for referring to his brother’s death. But there is. nothing ‘wrong in depicting an incident for the object Of the Ode is to present a symbolic conflict between the worlds of time and timelessness. In fact, the diction, imagery, symbolism, rhyme and “the prosaic matter of fact tone” of this “completely disintoxicated and disenchanted stanza” (F.R. Leavis) dramatise the contrast between the bird’s unself-conscious harmony with the natural surrounding (“among the leaves”) and man’s awareness of transitoriness, disappointment, disease and death, which leads to his alienation from his surroundings.

The rhythmic flow of the line “what though amongst the leaves hast never known” is disrupted with the cataloguing of human ills. “The weariness, the fever, the fret” (Line reminds us of Wordsworth’s “Tintern

Abbey” Lines 39-40, 52-53). Here the word obstructs the fluent flow of the rhythm and diverts our attention to the human transitoriness (“few sad, last grey hairs,” “pale and spectre thin and dies”). Why does the poet desire to fade away, to dissolve, to forget? The poet would like to fade away into the nightingale’s forest to overcome his “leaden eyed despair” his visionary flight would carry him away from suffering mankind towards Dryad’s forest dim (1-20), the magic kingdom of Queen Moon and starry fays (36-37) or easeful Death (50). All these wishes are paradoxical and futile quest for permanence and unconsciousness.

Keats from the very beginning of the Ode prepares the reader for his equivocal death-wish. We have numbness, hemlock, Letheward movement in stanza one, then the desire “to dissolve and quite forget”(line 21) and “the embalmed darkness” (43) leaf-buried “fast-fading violets” of a landscape not seen but felt a half-supernatural bower. (Stanza 5). In this stanza, the poet penetrates into the essence of things with his imaginative power and gives us a picture of transcendence as if the “happiness on Earth” experienced in the first stanza were here “repeated in a finer tone” (Keats’s letters I 185).

The poet dreams of an easeful painless transition to a higher mode of existence—the presentation of the easeful death differs from the description of the frightening palsy ridden old age, or spectre thin youth or consumptive patients in the second stanza. Death would “take into the air” the poet’s “quiet breath” while “the nightingale is pouring forth (its) soul abroad/In such an ecstasy”. Death seems ‘rich’
for the poet would die into the eternal music. Note death only seems ‘rich’. Although in line 35 the poet claims “Already with thee”, but he had never left the earth, he has perhaps been entrancingly gazing at the direction of the song for here his dull consecutively reasoning brain in a brutal truncating monosyllable tells him that in death he would “become a sod”.

The recollection of the search bound condition ending in the silence of death once again stirs the speaker to contemplate on the music of the bird, which he is still hearing and he describes the nightingale as ‘Immortal’. “Thou was not born for death, Immortal Bird”. Critics have been debating why Keats has addressed the nightingale as Immortal bird Is the nightingale immortal because “of its imperishable song” (Colvin), because it stands for its species (Lowell) because it is a Dryad (Garrod), because it symbolizes poetry (Muir) or art (Hough) or because it lacks “man’s self-consciousness” and is “in harmony with its world” (Brooks and Warren). Andrew J. Kappel finds its immortality in its “native naturalness” and its “obliviousness to transience”.

Ruth’s homesickness is not mentioned in the Bible. Many critics agree with Garrod who suggests that the idea of a homesick gleaner is derived from Wordsworth’s The Solitary Reaper. Victor J. Lams finds the influence of Milton’s nightingale on the lines. Ruth’s homesickness and alienation underline the natural feeling of estrangement one experiences in an ‘alien’ land. “Just as the nightingale’s immortality fills the void left by Keats’s recognition of his own mortality, so Ruth sick for home standing ‘in tears amid the alien corn’ mirrors the poet’s need for perfect union with the ideal other, his yearning for the nightingale’s harmony with its environment, and his estrangement from the natural world in which the unconsciousness grain achieves fulfilment by being harvested.”

By presenting fancy as “a deceiving elf’ the speaker prepares himself to accept nature’s cyclical process of death (fading violets) and birth (the coming musk rose) depicted in stanza five. The recognition of the inevitability of change, of death, does not stop his yearning for immortality. He ends the Ode with a question—was he dreaming or sleeping. In the “Ode to A Nightingale” the speaker remains baffled by the burden of the mystery and the painful gulf between eternity (immortality) and an impermanent realm in which old age wastes generations hungry for permanence and perfection. Both in “La Belle” and “the Nightingale” the protagonist is driven back from a transcendental world to sordid actuality. (adapted).

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2 Comments

  1. Describe the nature of the poet’s restlessness.What does the nightingale’s music mean to him?

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