ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE (1819)
BY JOHN KEATS
ABOUT THE POEM
The poem “Ode to a Nightingale” was written in 1819 in Hampstead and was published in the same year. It is strange to know that John Keats has composed the whole poem in a single day. The poem consists of eight stanzas of 10 lines each.
The background story of writing this poem is, once, while sitting under the tree Keats was feeling distressed but a sudden change in mood could be seen in poet after listening the voice of nightingale.
The Poet assumed that definitely nightingale has been singing a cheerful song which wondrously helps in transforming his sad mood into calmness and cheerful. The song of nightingale helped out in forgetting the sad world of Keats.
And, so, poet write about this experience of joy in his work “Ode to a Nightingale”.
ABOUT THE POET
The poem “Ode to a Nightingale” was written by John Keats, the poet of late 18th century who carved his niche among one of the most prominent writers of Romanticism. John Keats was born in 31st October 1795 and died at the age of 25, in 23rd February 1821 because of his deadly illness tuberculosis.
Keats is celebrated for writing brilliant works in the form of odes, poems, and sonnets. His most famous for works like “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “To Autumn”, “On Melancholy”, and so on.
Keats gain his popularity posthumously. His works influenced writers like Alfred Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites.
THEME OF THE POEM
Throughout the poem the poet has discussed about his mental condition at the point of his life where he is disturbed because of the uncertain circumstances he has to face. The poem “Ode to a Nightingale” is just the outlet of his troubled mind.
EXPLANATION OF THE POEM
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, —
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.
The poem states feeling of John Keats. In the first stanza, Keats talks about his emotional sufferings where he is endured pain and sorrow of losing people very close to him at early stages of life. He says his heart pains but the pain he feels is emotionless.
While sitting under the tree, the poet listens to the melodious song of the nightingale. He tends to forget his sufferings. He says that nightingale’s sweet song made his senses numb and it seems that he had taken hemlock, or, he just emptied the drains of opium, or drank some water from the Lethe River which helped him in forgetting all his problems.
The Poet says that he doesn’t have a feeling of jealousy towards the nightingale instead he is enjoying the joyful mood of the bird.
Now, while praising the nightingale, the poet compared her with the goddess of the tree, Dryad, who possesses light wings.
The Poet says that the surroundings of the plot which is full of green beech trees become melodious from the song nightingale is singing, and this beautiful summer season provides her the ease to sing completely loud and clear.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
In the second stanza, Keats has expressed his current desire that aroused while listening to the melodious song of the Nightingale. Being a typical sensual poet Keats has expressed his feelings in a wonderful manner.
He wishes to take a sip of wine that has been buried deep into the earth for a very long time. He utters that the essence of wine will remind him of green land village, and of the flower which is used to ferment the wine. The poet completes his intuitions with retelling the dance and the sweet song of the Provence, and of the cold places where the sun seems wonderful to relax.
He again expresses the desire of drinking a full beaker of wine that belongs to the south of France which left his mouth purple.
Then, he says that the nightingale’s song provides him the pleasure he might get while being around the blushful Hippocrene, a fountain where muses live.
Now, Keats says about a beautiful scenario of the spring season when the fountain is found winkling with the water bubbled like beaded at its top.
With this the poet states that while listening the nightingale’s voice and enjoying his imagination he just wants to get indulge himself with the bird out of the world where he is living.
We can understand the situation of poet through this stanza as he’s getting immense pleasure from the song of the nightingale and so, he wants to run away from the reality of his life and has the feeling of getting disappear into the place where the nightingale lives.
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
In the third stanza, the poet wanted to get lost deep into the forest so that he could be able to forget the miserable things happening in his life. He wants to forget the world that is full of tiredness, illness, and with troubled people. The poet is in the phase of life where he doesn’t want to be with the people who are trapped by deadly disease and tiredness. He wants to escape from those places where people are just mere spectators and only consoles the patient in their sufferings.
He gets disappointed when he observes that people of all age, be it an old man or a young boy could suffer from any fatal sickness or even die of illness. He realizes that no one is living a peaceful life in this earth. While continuing his statement he says, it’s hard to find the joy of happiness among those people. Meanwhile, their eyes become pale because of the infection.
In the last line of the stanza, poet feels heartbroken remembering the love of his life whom he lost at an early age because of a mortal sickness.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
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.
In the fourth stanza of the poem, the poet realizes that he does not want to stay in his current situation, and hence decides to accompany to the nightingale flying high in the sky. He says he doesn’t need any Greek wine to forget about his pain instead he finds the nightingale’s melodious song adequate to feel wonderful through this tough time.
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The poet says that he will follow the bird through his beautiful creation of poetry which is hardly noticeable. The poet has started enjoying the company of the nightingale, he says that this night while listening to the bird’s melodious song seems beautiful and relaxing. He declares that he wants to leave all the uncertainties, complexities, and confusions behind and enjoy the beauty illustrated by the Queen moon sitting on his throne and surrounded by clusters of stars which together produce light all over the forest.
Now, the poet is wondering about the place where the nightingale might be sitting and because of being dark in colour it is hard to find her. Even though the forest is full of greens, yet the dense moss pathways make it impossible for the poet to locate the exact place where the nightingale might be sitting.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
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;
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.
In the fifth stanza, the poet has beautifully designated the atmosphere around the nightingale sitting on the wood singing this melodious song.
He, while searching for the nightingale in the dense-dark forest, says that everything is hard to recognize. He can feel the seasonable flowers of May that are soft and full of fragrance. He can feel the flowers touching his feet yet could not have a glance at them because of the darkness. But he could identify them through their sweet fragrance.
Now, the poet mentions a few flowers that bloom in May which he recognizes through his senses. They are White Hawthorn, Pastoral Eglantine, musk roses and fast fading violets that seemed to be covered up with leaves.
The poet relates the Fast-fading violets with “the eldest child of May” because these flowers grow in the early days of May and their life cycle ends soon by fading.
The poet again mentions that he can imagine the roses whose leaves and shrubs are sprinkled up with the morning dew drops. He can also hear the soft noise of the flies flying around this summer evening.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.
In the sixth stanza of the poem, the poet talks about his emotions which suddenly arouses while listening to the melodious song of the Nightingale. The poet in this stanza signifies the Nightingale with the name “Darkling”, the darling of the night.
In this poem, the poet is at that stage of life where everything seems threatening and unpleasure but somehow the bird’s song is providing him calm and ease to even die happily. He states that this midnight beauty and the bird’s melodious song will help him to surpass his pain of death.
Then, the poet completes his line by describing his situation after his death. He states that the Nightingale’s song will be changed into prayer after his death where he will be lying like a sod, a ground where grass grows, and no longer be able to listen to what the nightingale is singing. And this whole scenario seems rich for the poet to move on from the discomfort he received from his life.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
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 same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
In the seventh stanza of the poem, the poet is aware of his sufferings from tuberculosis. He knows well that he is going to die soon with unbearable pain, but the nightingale’s song is providing him an immense pleasure. Hence, the poet says that this will be the perfect time to leave his body so that he doesn’t encounter enormous pain.
The stanza starts with the statement where the poet says that he has started thinking about death but, the Nightingale is immortal as she has been living in this world for the eras and generations all around the world have heard her melodious songs.
He continues his line by saying that the song he heard all over the night was also heard by the ancient emperors and clowns. Even Ruth had listened to her calming song. Ruth is a character from mythological stories who married a man of another land and not from her country. She went with him to spend the rest of her life but her husband died very soon. So, living in an unknown country has left her with the feeling of being alienated who misses her homeland.
In the last line, the poet has started thinking in regard to a fairy-tale, where the nightingale’s melodious song perhaps works in opening the doors of happiness and joy.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
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:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: —Do I wake or sleep?
In the last stanza of the poem, the poet takes a turn when the word ‘Forlorn‘ comes into his mind. The word ‘Forlorn’ bells like an alarm in his mind that woke him up from a dream that somehow pleasured the poet.
In the next line, the poet says ‘adieu’ or ‘good-bye’ as he realizes that nothing can change his current situation, not even the nightingale’s song. It signifies that the poet wants to come back into the realism which even though is full of grief and sorrow but is the reality.
The poet in this stanza realized the fact that the nightingale’s song had drawn him into a mournful path where the poet started feeling alone and abandoned and even considered death to be pleasurable so as to release himself from the pain.
The poet continues this line and talks about the myths he heard in favour of the nightingale’s song but now he wants to part ways from her fascinating world.
Now, in the rest of the lines, when the poet came back into his senses, he declares that he is walking away from the place where the nightingale is singing and now, her song seems to fade over the meadows, the streams up the hillsides and at the end it seemed buried deep perhaps in the gaps of the following valleys.
In the last line of the stanza, Keats goes down in deep thought where he is confused about the whole scenario between a vision and an awakening dream.
The rhyme scheme used in the poem “Ode to a Nightingale” is ABABCDECDE and the whole poem is written in the form of “iambic pentameter”.
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