Summary of Ode to a Nightingale


The speaker begins by confessing his own heartbreak. He is numb, as if he would just taken a drug. He is addressing a nightingale he hears singing somewhere in the forest and says that his “drowsy numbness” is caused not by envy of the nightingale’s happiness, but by sharing it too completely; he is “too happy” that the nightingale sings summer music from among some unseen plot of green trees and shadows.

In the second stanza, the speaker expresses his desire for wine, “a draught of vintage,” that would taste like the country and peasant dances and allow him to “leave the world unseen” and escape into the shadowy woodland with the nightingale. He explains his wish to fade away in the third stanza, claiming he wants to forget the hardships the nightingale has never known: “the weariness, fever, and fret” of human life, with its awareness that everything is mortal and nothing lasts. “Youth grows pale, spectre-thin, and dies,” and “beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes.”

The speaker tells the nightingale to fly away, and he will follow, not through drink (“Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards”), but by poetry, which will give him “viewless wings.” He claims to be already with the nightingale and describes the forest glade, where even the moonlight is concealed by the trees, save for the light that shines through when the breezes blow the branches. The speaker claims in the fifth stanza that he can not see the flowers in the glade, but he can estimate them “in embalmed darkness”: white hawthorne, eglantine, violets, and the muskrose, “the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.” The speaker listens to the nightingale in the sixth stanza, adding that he has often been “half in love” with the notion of dying and has called Death gentle names in countless rhymes. Surrounded by the nightingale’s song, the speaker feels the thought of death appears richer than ever, and he longs to “cease upon the midnight with no pain” as the nightingale pours its soul ecstatically forth. He claims that once he dies, the nightingale will continue to sing, but he will “have ears in vain” and will be unable to hear.

The speaker informs the nightingale in the seventh stanza that she is immortal and was not “born for death.” He claims that the singing voice he hears has always been heard, by ancient rulers and clowns, by homesick Ruth; he even claims that the song has often enchanted open magical windows looking out over “the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” The word forlorn rings out like a bell in the eighth stanza, bringing the speaker back into himself and away from his concentration with the nightingale. As the nightingale flies away, he laments that his imagination has failed him and that he can not remember if the bird’s melody was “a vision or a waking dream.” The speakerRead Also is unsure whether he is awake or asleep now that the music has stopped.

Read Also: Solved Questions and Study Guide of Ode to Nightingale

Form of Ode to a Nightingale

“Ode to a Nightingale” is written in ten-line stanzas, as are the majority of the other odes. It is, nonetheless, metrically varied, but not as much as “Ode to Psyche” is. The first seven and last two lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter; the eighth line is written in trimeter, with just three emphasised syllables rather than five. “Nightingale” also differentiates from the other odes in that its rhyme scheme is the same in each stanza (save for “To Psyche,” which has the loosest structure of all the odes, every other ode modifies the order of rhyme in the final three or four lines).

In “Nightingale,” each stanza rhymes ABABCDECDE, which is Keats’ most fundamental rhyme scheme throughout the odes.

Analysis of Ode to a Nightingale


The poem begins as the speaker becomes bewildered from listening to the nightingale’s song, as if he had just drank something extremely strong. The thought of the nightingale’s carefree life fills him with bittersweet happiness.

The speaker wishes he could drink a rare wine that was distilled directly from the land. He wishes to savour such a wine before fading into the woodland with the nightingale. He wishes to be free of the anxieties and concerns of life, age, and time.


He uses poetry to enter the nightingale’s realm, deep in the dark woodland where no moonlight can reach. He can not see the flowers or plants surrounding him, but he can smell them. He believes it would not be so horrible to die at night in the forest, alone save for the nightingale’s song.

The nightingale, on the other hand, cannot die. The nightingale must be immortal because its song has been heard by generations of humans ranging from clowns and emperors to Biblical characters and characters from fantasy writings.

When the nightingale flies away and leaves the speaker alone, his vision is disturbed. He feels abandoned and dissatisfied that his mind is incapable of creating its own world. He is perplexed and befuddled, unable to distinguish between reality and dreams.
Stanza 1 Summary

Lines 1-2

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

The speaker states that his heart hurts as he is just drank poison. “Hemlock” is the poison taken by the Greek philosopher Socrates after he was sentenced to death for corrupting youth. The speaker feels drowsy and numb, similar to when the dentist administers Novocain. Consider him swaying back and forth, a little tipsy and out of it.

The way he describes the “ache” in his heart, it almost sounds delightful. Like when you hear a sad music that really pierces your heart and you are like, “This makes me so sad!” but if anyone tried to turn it off, you would choke them.

Lines 3-4

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

“Poison” is a bit exaggerated. He’s not dying, after all. He tries another approach to explain how he feels.  He feels as though he has drank some powerful drug or painkiller (“opiate”) that causes him to “sink” into a kind of oblivion.

“Poison” is a bit of an exaggeration. After all, he is not going to die. He attempts a different technique to express how he feels. He feels as though he has consumed some powerful narcotic or painkiller (“opiate”), causing him to “sink” into a state of forgetfulness.

In Greek mythology, “Lethe” was a river in Hades (the Underworld) that drank from made individuals lose all their memories. There is no getting around it: the speaker is equating his feelings to being completely high on narcotics.

Opium is a potent stimulant derived from the poppy flower that was popular among certain daring sorts in the nineteenth century. For example, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as the writer Thomas de Quincy, who penned an article titled “Confessions of an Opium Eater,” were both opium addicts. This was before people realised how harmful opium is to the body.

Lines 5-6

Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,

We now know that the speaker is addressing the title’s nightingale. He wants to make it clear that the anguish he is experiencing is not due to jealousy of the bird’s happiness. Instead, he is overjoyed for the bird’s pleasure. He is like that buddy who breaks into tears when you deliver very excellent news and cries, “I am just… so… so… happy… for you!” but you are not sure if they are glad for you or unhappy for themselves.

Lines 7-10

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

And what is the deal with the nightingale’s joy? Because it gets to spend the entire day sitting in the trees and singing about summer. Jimmy Buffet is to the trees what Michael Jackson is to the beach.

READ ALSO:  A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg - Summary and Analysis

The nightingale is not a huge bird, yet it can fly, which seems to be sufficient reason to name it “lightwinged” (which is pronounced with three syllables, by the way). A “dryad” is a nymph (female spirit) that lives in the woods in Greek mythology.

The bird makes any place or “plot” it inhabits “melodious,” and this plot appears to include beech trees, giving it a “beechen green” colour.

The nightingale is not shy about expressing herself. It sings with a “full throat,” as if it were an opera singer doing a solo. We imagine that this poem is set during the height of summer.


Stanza 2 Summary

Lines 11-12

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

The speaker craves a glass of wine or another alcohol that has been kept chilled deep within the soil. “Vintage” wine is made from grapes from the same harvest, and the term “vintage” refers to a specific year at a winery.

At this point, we have no reason for his sudden eagerness to get his booze on. He wants wine to just start bubbling up from the ground, as if you could stick a tap right into the ground and let the good times roll.

Good wine must be kept cool, which is why it is frequently stored in basements. The earth, according to Keats, is like a gigantic wine cellar.

Lines 13-14

Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!

It is not surprising that wine made from the earth tastes like flowers (“Flora”) and vegetation (“country green”). People sometimes joke about wanting to “squeeze every last drop” out of the day, but the speaker seemed to take it honestly.

The earth’s wine not only tastes like flowers, but also like dancing, song, and gladness (“sunburnt mirth”).

He is thinking specifically of “Provencal,” an area in southern France noted for its wine, sun, and a type of poetic song known as “Troubadour poetry.” Many Troubadours composed poems for an unattainable lover.

Lines 15-16

O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

The speaker want to pour the south of France, or the South in general, into a bottle (“beaker”) and suck it down! He wishes to distil the earth’s powerful, intoxicating essence.

It is like going to the beach and wishing you could bottle the cool ocean breeze to take back to school or the office. “Hippocrene” is a reference that you should be aware of – Keats is once again displaying his understanding of Greek mythology.

Hippocrene is known as the “Fountain of the Muses,” a group of eight women (again, in Greek mythology) who inspire aspiring poets. The fountain rises from the earth where Pegasus, the legendary flying horse, is said to have dug his hoof.

He wants to drink something that will turn him become a great poet…and get him drunk. The Hippocrene liquid is called “blushful” because it is reddish, similar to the colour of both wine and blush.

Lines 17-18

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;

The speaker discusses the wine’s look in wonderful detail. It features small bubbles at the brim of the beaker that burst, or “wink,” like little eyes.

It also leaves a purple stain in your tongue when you drink it, much like any strong red wine.

Lines 19-20

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

What does all this discussion of wine, inspiration, and inebriation have to do with the nightingale? What became to the elderly bird?

In the final two lines of the stanza, the speaker summarises his aims. He wants to become drunk on this mystical wine so that he can “fade” into the dark woodland with the nightingale without anyone noticing.

But is not the forest a part of the “world” as well? Evidently not. He could be referring to the world of human civilization, work, duty, and all that. The nightingale exists outside of this planet.

Leaving aside Provencal and Hippocrene, the speaker wishes to drink for the same reason many others do: to forget about his concerns for a bit and to be in a more carefree state of mind.

Stanza 3 Summary

Lines 21-22

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,

A harp begins to play, and the dream sequence begins. The speaker fantasises about “fading” out of the world, about quietly leaving. He wishes to forget the things that the nightingale has never had to deal with. Again, we do not know exactly what he means, but we believe it has something to do with the tensions and anxieties of living in human society. The bird is unconcerned about such things.

Lines 23-24

The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Why is he bringing up such dismal topics? He appears to be unable to leave the world behind. The world is filled with exhausted and “weary” people, as well as sickness (“fever”) and extreme stress (“fret”). He reduces society to a single depressingly overblown image: people sitting around and “groaning” and complaining to one other.

That is a fairly gloomy outlook on life, but it just goes to show how much the nightingale has influenced him. Our voices sound like groans in comparison to the nightingale’s joyous song.

Lines 25-26

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

He decides to take the sad imagery to the next level, presenting the world as a place where the uncontrollable movements of disease shake the “last grey hairs” on a dying man’s head. Palsy is a disorder that causes abrupt involuntary movements, and as a result, this gray-haired man can no longer control his own body.

He is also nearly bald. In this part, Keats battles one of his most vexing adversaries: time. After reading this poem, read “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which he attempts to miraculously stop time.

Time is the speaker’s enemy because it causes young and beautiful people to turn old, “pale,” thin as a ghost, and, eventually, dead as a doornail. Simply, time = death, death = bad, so time = bad.

Lines 27-28

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,

The world is a place where any kind of thinking leads to depressing thoughts and worries. There are no thoughts that can ultimately bring joy or peace: thinking itself is the problem.

These sad and “despairing” thoughts make your eyelid like lead weights. You have trouble just staying awake and conscious during the day. The world totally wears people down and tires them out.

Lines 29-30

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

The speaker continues to explain why the world of human time is such a bad place. Neither Beauty nor Love can survive there for long. Beauty loses her glowing (“lustrous”) eyes, probably when they become “leaden” from depressed thoughts.


And new Love cannot fawn (“pine”) over Beauty’s eyes once they have lost their luster. Love is fickle like that, and, as anyone who has ever been through junior high school knows, it often doesn’t last “beyond to-morrow.”

Stanza 4 Summary

Lines 31-32

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

All this thinking about how depressing the world is makes the speaker think, “Get me outta here!” He needs to hatch an escape plan.

He wants fly away to join the nightingale in its refuge from the world. But he knows that the booze isn’t going to take him. He can’t rely on Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, or any of Bacchus’s buddies (“pards”), which is what he wanted earlier in the poem.

Lines 33-34

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Instead of wine, he’s going to fly on the wings of his own poetry. Poetry’s wings are invisible, or “viewless.”
He’s hopeful that poetry will take him to the nightingale’s world even though his brain is not so helpful in making the trip. His brain confuses him and slows him down.

Lines 35-36

Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,


And, the, all of a sudden, he’s with the nightingale. How did that happen? Count us slightly suspicious of how he can be “already with” the bird, even though he just complained about how his brain was such a big roadblock.

One possibility is that he joins the nightingale in his dreams, because the imagery in this section is associated with darkness and night.

He is in the kingdom of the night, which is soft and “tender,” and the moon is visible in the sky. The imagery is more fanciful and imaginative here.

The phrase “tender is the night” was made famous by the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used it as the title of one of his novels.

Lines 37-40

Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

The moon is surrounded by her attendants (“fays”), the stars. Despite all these sources of light, there is no light in the nightingale’s world beyond what filters down through the trees.

What he is really describing in this complicated-sounding line is the fact that the nightingale lives in the forest, where trees block the light. “Verdurous glooms,” just means the darkness that is caused by plants getting in the way of the moon. Still, the nightingale’s home sounds like a magical place, something out of a fairy tale.

Stanza 5 Summary

Lines 41-42

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

The speaker remains in the nightingale’s nighttime world. Without light, the speaker can’t see the flowers on the forest floor or the plants that produce that pleasant smell (“soft incense”) in the trees.

Lines 43-46

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;


The speaker is still groping around in the dark, but he’s having fun. Because he can’t see, he has to guess what “sweet” flowers and plants he smells, which depends on what month it is. It’s a delicious guessing game.

The darkness is “embalmed,” where “balm” is a sweet-smelling substance like a perfume. He’s guessing all kinds of different plants: “Grass!” “Fruit tree!” “Wait, wait, I know this one: white hawthorn! No, it’s eglantine!” Or maybe he smells all of them at once, like a bouquet.

Lines 47-50

Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

More plants that the speaker smells in the dark are named by the speaker. He also starts listing things he can hear. This part is all about the sense of being alone in a dark – but not frightening – forest.

READ ALSO:  Bully By Andrew Smith - Summary and Analysis


He sees violets, a summer flower, and the musk rose, a May blossom. The musk rose dew, like the wine he mentioned earlier, is intoxicating.

On a summer evening, he hears the buzzing of flies. In summary, he appears to be experiencing both spring and summer at the same time, indicating that we have departed the world of strict reality. We are no longer in Kansas, as Dorothy would say.

Stanza 6 Summary

Lines 51-52

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,

In this poem, the stanzas flow together naturally. The speaker shifted from odours to sounds at the end of stanza 5. He now claims to be listening in the darkness.
The sense of being alone in the dark appears to be similar to the experience of death, and he wonders maybe death is not so horrible after all. “This is simple,” he says to himself. “This is something I could get used to.”

Death would be just another way for him to be free of his worldly concerns. Perhaps he is mistaking death for lounging on a Barbados beach….

Lines 53-54

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;

This is starting to sound like a love storey between the speaker and death. To death, the speaker murmurs lovely nothings. We mean “writes rhyming poetry about” when we say “whispers.”

Keats was preoccupied with death and frequently wrote about it. Line 54 is puzzling: we believe he wants death to take the air from his lungs, or that the air takes his breath along with his poems.

Lines 55-56

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

He is greatly taken with the thought of death. He feels it would be “rich to die” in the realm of the nightingale. Many people are frightened that death will leave them empty-handed, although wealth is associated with an abundance of wonderful things, which is almost the polar opposite of emptiness.

He would prefer to leave quietly in the middle of the night. He would simply cease to exist: “cease.” This section of the poem is a little disturbing, because Keats died when he was very young.

Lines 57-58

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy!

He wishes to pass away at midnight, while listening to the nightingale sing. We were curious about what happened to the nightingale. He appears to forget about the nightingale in the start of the stanzas and then recall it at the end, as if he suddenly realised: “Oh, right: this is supposed to be a poem about a bird!”


The nightingale is similar to a poet in that it sends its voice into the air in the same way that Keats sends his poem into the air. The melody of the bird conveys its “soul.” Birds can have souls, right? This one is correct. The bird is entirely engrossed in a state of pure bliss and “ecstasy.”

Lines 59-60

Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— To thy high requiem become a sod.

He imagines what would happen if he died right now. Essentially, the bird would continue to sing as if nothing had happened. Of course, the speaker would still have “ears”: or would he? His body would. However, the ears would be ineffective (“vain”) because there would be no brain to process the noises. The bird would therefore be singing a “high requiem,” which is a type of church liturgy in which music is sung for a deceased person. Many classical musicians, like Mozart, have written great requiems, but we are guessing the nightingale has no idea it is singing one.

Of course, neither would the speaker. He would be an inanimate item by that moment, like a bit of grassy soil or “sod.”

Stanza 7 Summary

Lines 61-62

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;

He thinks that the nightingale must be immortal: it can’t die. Being immortal, the nightingale is not followed by future generations, which are metaphorically “hungry” in that they take the place of their parents. This is a very pessimistic view of the cycle of life. Basically, the younger folks are hunting down their own parents to run them off the planet.

Lines 63-64

The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown:

He doesn’t necessarily mean that each nightingale is immortal. He means that the nightingale’s voice is immortal, because all nightingales produce the same beautiful, haunting sound. His talk of generations leads him to think of human history.
Emperors and clowns in the old days listened to the same voice of the nightingale that he hears now. The reference to emperors makes us think of Ancient Rome. Keats was an Italian buff.

Lines 65-67

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The speaker travels further back in time, from Imperial Rome to the Old Testament of the Bible (also known as the Hebrew Bible). The Book of Ruth is one of the Hebrew Bible’s lesser-known books. Ruth, according to legend, married a man and migrated to a new nation. After her husband died, Ruth’s mother-in-law advised her to return home and remarry. “I am completely loyal to you and can not leave you,” Ruth said. She helps her mother-in-law by labouring in the fields of this (to her) unusual and random location. She eventually finds a new husband.

READ ALSO:  Summary of Chaitanya by Arun Kolatkar


Keats imagines Ruth hearing the nightingale’s song while labouring in the fields in this foreign or “alien” environment, which prompted her to cry. We wish we knew why he chose this storey: it is an intriguing reference!

Lines 68-70

The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

He mentions the nightingale’s melody again. But now he is abandoned conventional human history entirely in favour of fantasy. A “casement” is either a regular case or a window that opens on a hinge. The speaker believes the nightingale’s song has “charmed” a casement on a ship, and the casement opens. Some “magic” is involved, but we believe Keats is simply using words that conjure up pictures of fantasy. The nightingale flies out the window and over the vast sea. There is a sense of foreboding: this is not your average ocean. It is the ocean that surrounds a fantasy realm or “faery land.” Keats may have been inspired by the stories of knights, fairies, and monsters in Edmund Spenser’s classic Renaissance poem, The Faerie Queene. After flying out the window, the nightingale is alone and abandoned–”forlorn”–in this foreign place.

Stanza 8 Summary

Lines 71-72

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!

Why did he feel the need to use the word “forlorn”? It reminds the speaker of how he, too, was abandoned — by the nightingale. After several enjoyable stanzas of exploring the nightingale’s realm, he is abruptly dragged back into the conventional world. For him, the word “forlorn” is like having a really good dream and then suddenly hearing your alarm clock and remembering that you have to get up and go to class. It is a major letdown. The speaker is drawn back into his own mind, into his “sole self.”

Lines 73-74

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

He admits that his attempts to “cheat” his way into the nightingale’s world with his imagination (“fancy”) have not been as successful as he would have wanted. He bids farewell to the bird before lashing out at his imagination for being a “deceiving elf,” akin to Shakespeare’s character Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Despite the fact that “fancy” is famous for being able to construct new worlds, the speaker has not been able to permanently escape the everyday reality.

Lines 75-78

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep In the next valley-glades:

The nightingale is clearly flying away at this point. The speaker says goodbye to the nightingale twice more, each time using the French term “adieu,” which means “good-bye for a long time.” As the bird travels from adjacent meadows, across a creek, up a hill, and into the next valley, its sorrowful or “plaintive” song becomes more difficult to hear. He can not hear it anymore.

Lines 79-80

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Now that the bird has flown away, the speaker is not sure if he ever entered its world at all. He believes the incident was a “waking dream” and not real. But has the speaker returned to the “real” world? Perhaps the nightingale’s world was reality, and the “real” world was only a dream.

Everything is off-kilter, and he has no idea what is true and what is fanciful. He is unsure if he is awake or sleeping.

Themes of Ode to a Nightingale


With “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats’ speaker begins his most comprehensive and in-depth exploration of the topics of artistic expression and human mortality. The transience of life and the sadness of old age are juxtaposed in this ode (“where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies”) with the eternal regeneration of the nightingale’s fluid singing (“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!”). The speaker returns to the “drowsy numbness” he had in “Ode on Indolence,” but if that numbness in “Indolence” was a symptom of separation from reality, it is a sign of too full a connection in “Nightingale”: “being too happy in thine happiness,” as the speaker tells the nightingale. Hearing the nightingale’s singing, the speaker wishes to leave the human world and join the bird. His initial thought is to achieve the bird’s state through wine; in the second stanza, he longs for a “draught of vintage” to whisk him away from himself. 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, for the first time since refusing to follow the figures in “Indolence,” “the viewless wings of Poesy.”

The thrill of poetic inspiration parallels the endless creative delight of the nightingale’s melody, allowing the speaker to envision himself with the bird in the darkness woodland in stanzas five through seven. The blissful music even urges the speaker to accept the prospect of dying, of dying peacefully while entranced by the nightingale’s music and never experiencing any additional sorrow or disappointment. But as his meditation forces him to pronounce the word “forlorn,” he returns to himself, realising his fancy for what it is—an imagined escape from the inexorable (“Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well, deceiving elf”). The intensity of the speaker’s experience has left him shaken, unable to remember whether he is awake or asleep as the nightingale flies away.

The speaker in “Indolence” renounced all artistic effort. He was willing to welcome the creative imagination in “Psyche,” but only for its own internal pleasures. However, in the nightingale’s song, he discovers a kind of outward expression that transforms the activity of the imagination into the outside world, and it is this discovery that finally pushes him to embrace Poesy’s “viewless wings.” The nightingale’s “art” is infinitely dynamic and renewing; it is music without a record, existing only in the current moment. The speaker’s vocabulary, sensually rich as it is, serves to suppress the sense of sight in favour of the other senses, as befits his appreciation of music. He can envision the moonlight, “but there is no light here”; he is aware that he is surrounded by flowers, yet he “cannot see what flowers” are at his feet. This repression will find its equal in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” a poem that is similar to “Ode to a Nightingale” in many ways. In the later poem, the speaker will eventually encounter a made art-object that is not bound by time; in “Nightingale,” he has achieved creative expression and placed his faith in it, but that expression—the nightingale’s song—is spontaneous and devoid of physical embodiment.

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

x