Hello and welcome to this in-depth
analysis of ode to a nightingale by John Keats I am Sanket Kumar Jha an assistant professor in English at Lalit Narayan Mithila University Darbhanga. Ode to a nightingale is one of the most famous odes in English literature This ode was first published in a
journal called annals of the Fine Arts in 1819. An ode is a poem of address that
usually celebrates a person or an object In this poem
Keats celebrates the nightingale whose song affects him like a drug. It is
rich in sensuousness, imagery and allusions and is representative of
Keats’s escapism and his negative capability. To learn more about John
Keats and his works please watch my lecture by visiting the link given in
the description. Keats was staying with his friend Charles Brawn at Wentworth
Place Hampstead. His brother Tom had died of tuberculosis and he was still
mourning the death of his brother. But he had also fallen in love with his
neighbor Fanny Brawne. According to Charles Brawn a Nightingale had built its nest near their house and Keats was delighted by the nightingales’ song. One
morning he sat under a plum tree in the garden and remained there for
several hours. He eventually returned with some scraps of paper which
according to Brown contained the Ode to a Nightingale.
Let us recreate the scene. Imagine Keats sitting in a garden and listening to the
song of a nightingale like this one.. …. The first stanza starts now. My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains My sense as though of Hemlock I had drunk. Keats says that there is pain in his heart and his senses are numbed as if he
has drunk hemlock one minute ago. Hemlock is a poison that
kills by paralyzing. There is simile here : comparison of the numbness of
senses to that brought by poison. Numbness means lack of sensation in a part of body Next line: Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: Keats feels as if he has drank a bottle of opium one
minute ago. To the drains.. that is.. to the last drop and hence he has forgotten
everything. He feels that his senses have gone Lethe-Wards. As per Greek
mythology Lethe is a river in the underworld. After the death of a person
his soul passes through this river and loses all its past life memories. ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thine happiness. Now the
nightingale comes into picture. Keats makes it clear that he is not
jealous of the lucky nightingale rather he is excessively happy. So he suggests
that his drowsiness, numbness and forgetfulness are due to his 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 nightingale is so happy because it sings amongst the trees all day. The poet calls it “light-winged” because a nightingale is a small bird and has little wings. He calls the Nightingale a Dryad. “Dryad” in Greek Mythology is a nymph that lives in the trees. A plot is not melodious but a nightingale makes any plot melodious with its sweet voice. Beech is a green tree. The poet has used it as an adjective. The nightingale sings with a “full throat,” that is with all its might but it does so easily. O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth
The poet considers wine as a means of escape. A draught is the amount that can be swallowed in a single drink. “Vintage” wine is made of grapes the older the wine the
better it tastes. The older the wine the better it tastes. Hence long aged. Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth! Flora is the goddess of flowers, but here the term is used for flowers themselves. “Provence ,” is a region in the south of France known for its wine, and a kind of poetic song known as “Troubadour poetry.” The poet wants a drink tasting of flower, greenery, dance, poetry and warmth of the Sun. This is an example of Synaesthesia : Expressing one sensation in terms of another. O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, Now the poet wants to drink the entire South with its warmth and mirth.
In Greek mythology, Hippocrene was a spring on Mt. Helicon. It was formed by the hooves of Pegasus and its water was supposed to bring poetic inspiration. 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: The description beaded bubbles that burst, is picturesque and rich in sensuousness. By “world” he means the world of human society, work, responsibility, and all that. The Poet makes his intention clear: he wants to drink to get lost with the nightingale. to get lost with the nightingale. Now stanza 3rd: Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget What thou among the leaves hast never known, The weariness, the fever, and the fret Keats wants to “fade” out of the world, that is to disappear very slowly. Unfortunately his wish got fulfilled. He died of tuberculosis when 25 only. He wants to forget about the weariness, fever and frustrations of the human world. 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; Keats presents a sad picture of the world : people sitting around and listening to each others “groan”. Palsy is a disease the causes sudden involuntary movements and makes people incapable. In this world Young persons become ill and die. Obviously he is recalling the death of his brother Tom. 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. The world is a place where any kind of thinking leads to sorrow and despair. Neither Beauty nor Love can survive for long. The Poet bewails against the corrosive power of Time. Time makes a young person old and kills. It snatches the lustrous eyes of Beauty and takes away love. Both beauty and Love have been personified here. There is repetition of the word “where” in this stanza. This figure is called Anaphora: It refers to the repetition initial words of sentences. Stanza 4 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: Bachhus is the Roman god of wine, who is shown in a chariot drawn by leopards. Here the poet rejects Wine and accepts imaginative flight of Poetry. Poetry’s wings are invisible, or “viewless.” this is a metaphor. Already with thee! tender is the night, And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; these lines are rich in imagery the
Queen moon is sitting on her throne The next lines are rich in imagery. The Queen moon is sitting on her throne. The next lines are rich in imagery. The Queen moon is sitting on her throne. The next lines are rich in imagery. The Queen moon is sitting on her throne. But here there is no light
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. But there is a contrast. There is no light in the Poet’s world except the moon rays that filters down through the trees. “Verdurous glooms,” means the darkness that is caused by mossy plants getting in the way of the moon. Stanza 5 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; Since it is dark, the poet can’t see the flowers or fruits that produce pleasant smell (“soft incense”) in the trees. or fruits that produce pleasant smell (“soft incense”) in the trees. But, in this embalmed darkness (sweet darkness), he can guess them. He’s guessing all kinds of different sweets produced by the season: Scent of “Grass!’ thicket, “Fruit tree!” 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.
He names more plants that he smells in the darkness: hawthorn, eglantine, violet and the musk rose. The poet calls the Musk rose the eldest child of May. The dew of the musk rose is intoxicating like wine. He can hear the murmuring also. These lines are
rich in sense of sight and sound Stanza 6 is very pathetic and an emotional outburst. 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. Keats calls the Nightingale Darkling–or the daughter of darkness…because Nightingles sing mostly in Night. He admits that he wanted to die many times and wrote poetry requesting Death to take away his breath. Death has been personified here. Death has been personified here. He thinks it would be “rich to die in the middle of the night “while listening to the nightingale singing. It appears to Keats that the Nightingale is not singing but pouring out its soul….in esctacy. He imagines what would happen if he dies now. The nightingale would keep singing but his would not be able to listen. The nightingale would then sing a “high requiem,” A requiem is the music sung for a dead person. A requiem is the music sung for a dead person. Now Stanza 7 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: Keats calls the nightingale immortal
Keats calls the younger generation as hungry on its elder generation. He clarifies that he has used the term immortal for the nightingale’s voice not its body. Because all nightingales sing in the same melodious tone. He says that Both Emperors and clowns listened to the same voice of the nightingale in ancient times. That he is listening now.
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. This is an allusion to the Biblical character Ruth. Ruth married and moved to a foreign country, her husband died and
Ruth’s mother-in-law told her to return home and get married again but she did
not remarry she supported her mother-in-law by working in the fields.
Eventually she obeyed her mother-in-law and got married again. Keats further says
that the same song has opened many charmed magic windows in distant and
dangerous seas. Now the last stanza 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? The poet repeats the word “forlorn” from the end of stanza VII. It reminds him of the nightingale has abandoned him. All of a sudden, he comes back to reality.. the normal world. He admits that his attempts to use his imagination to transport into the nightingale’s world was not so effective as he wanted. He bids good-bye to the bird. The French word, “adieu,” means, “good-bye for a long time.” The bird is gone now. flied past the meadows across the stream
of the hill and has went to the next Valley.
Now he cannot hear it at all. He asks a rhetorical question: was this experience just a “waking dream” and not really true? Thanks for watching subscribe and share