Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats is a poem inspired by a nightingale’s chirp song that the poet heard in the garden of one of his friends, Charles Brown, and composed one morning when the sound of the bird took his heart away. The ‘Ode of a Nightingale,’ written in the style of a Horatian ode, is a profound reflection of the poet’s feelings raised by the melody in the sound of the bird. The nightingale’s melodious song evoked in the poet an emotion, a heartache, and numbness that could only be generated by the consumption of hemlock. “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness hurts my senses as if I had drunk hemlock. ” (Keats, Line 1) The very thought and imagination of the beauty of the place where the bird stays gives the persona an elevated form of joy that it manifests into a form of a pain that is somewhat pleasant. The persona gets a great urge to leave his world, which has many cares, worries, and be elevated to that of the gay nightingale, where there is potentially little worry and an imagined immortality as represented by the song of the bird to the ears of the persona. “Away! away! for I will fly to thee (Keats, Line 31).”

In actual sense, the poem is a representation of the tragedy that is the human life, and brings out an expression of the persona’s pessimism and dejection with life. While at the beginning he was melancholic and dejected with life, the sound made by the bird seem to him as an immortal voice that represents happiness; and the longing for this particular happiness numbed his senses. However, he feels a form of acute pain, owing to the general fact that he is conscious of his mortality and a suffering that awaits him. He lives in a conscious state that he is aware that the tragedy of being alive is eventual death. As a result, he fantasizes of having drunk hemlock or some form of dull opiate. In this state of dreamy thoughts, he associates with the world of the nightingale, which by far looks perfect and great in all possible aspects that could be considered.

The persona addresses the nightingale directly in some unspecified setting in spring, presenting the themes of the contradictory nature of life, as we know it. He addresses such issues as pain and joy, life and death, pleasure and numbness, time and timelessness, which are all dualities of life that he attempts to question (Vendler, 71-110). This is a piece of art which represent the conflict between an imagined and real world. One world seems to be perfect and devoid of the troubles associated with those known in the actual reality. The sad thing with the perfect world as the persona sees it, is that it can only exist in our minds and thoughts and none of it is real. This is because in the real world that we live in, we are to face all the problems that come with it. The poet almost makes a statement that he regrets being a human and wishes that he were a bird to live free from the troubles of the life of man.

The title of the poem “Ode of the Nightingale” refers to the poet’s address to the nightingale, while at the same time identifying the type of poem that he has written, an ode. The tone of the poem is majorly ambivalent and conflicting; beginning with the pains and agonies posed by this world-the real world: Later the poem presents to the audience how the imaginary world has served to offer comfort to him: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen.” (Keats, Line 18) Thus, a longing to retreat into the world of the nightingale which exists in oblivion. The persona is probably aware of the world of the nightingale being imaginary, and that is there is a pain associated with the sweet sensation of listening to the melody of the bird. This is a realization that there is happiness away from our own very lives that we cannot live through. We are mortal, and our lives are to end some day. This thought of death makes the poet feel self-pity because he knows the melody of the bird lives forever in contrast to him. The poet feels because he will not live long it would be, “Now more than ever seems it rich to die (Keats, Line 55).”

The structure of the ode is such that the initial situation is to alter a matching change in the tone of the poem. Being a Horatian ode the poem maintains a consistent stanza length as well a meter. The poem boasts of eight separate stanzas, each carrying ten lines and the meter of each line in the stanza. This is with the exception of the last stanza, the eighth one, which is an iambic pentameter. The eighth line of the stanza is designed in the form of an iambic tri-meter, carrying many prefixes. As a consequent result, the line has only ten syllables instead of the normal ten. Throughout the poem, one can notice that the poet does a good work to keep the meter regular and unstrained. In some instances, he goes to the length of adding syllables to words to make them fit the rhyme. As such, the meter fits perfectly without any sign of misplacement or strain. It is evident in the line, “But, in embalmed darkness guess each sweet (Keats, Line 43).” Here, the ‘-ed’ of ‘embalmed’ is pronounced as a separate syllable, synonymous with the styles employed by Shakespeare.

The poem also sports a distinct rhyme scheme, ABABCDECDE, which stands out as a simple and straight forward scheme that is regular and easy to follow. This rhyme scheme is maintained through the poem (Doumerc, Wendy, and Michel, 192). In the poem, the poet is sure to rely on many other literary devices to mould his artwork, relying on such devices as alliteration, which is used in the seventh stanza, “…self-same song.” The tale of the poem takes a pinch at allusion, where the Biblical story of Ruth is alluded to. As a master of the forms of work, the poet includes a simile in the eighth stanza: “Forlon! The very word is like a bell (Keats, Line 70-71.” The use of imagery is not spared either. The poet employs a variety of imagery devices throughout the poem. For instance, in the second stanza, he brings attention to the stimulation of the tasting sense through the line; ‘Tasting of Flora and the country green (Keats, Line 13).’ The poet also employs the use of assonance in the line: “Of beechen green (Keats, Line 9).”

When it comes to the aspects of language in the composition, John Keats , the poet who composed the piece could only be vouched as a master of the art language. For instance, he plays with language by using figurative speech as well as multiple metaphors. The references that he makes to such aspects as alcohol and drug effects tend to give the poem a playful tone as well as a similar mood. This makes all the events in the poem seem to be happening in a dreamy or fantasized state. This gives the events a certain degree of ambiguity and an associated uncertainty to them (Vendler, 71-110). On the same aspect of language, the poem is laid down in the present tense, where the persona describes the events occurring in a certain present moment as they happen: “Tasting of Flora and the country-green…” On the sentence structure, the poet has made his sentence structure very clear and easy to follow. There is a mix of short one-word exclamations with long and complex sentence statements, which carry more than one idea. One thing that stands out clearly is that the poet does not respect sentence structures and wording. However, the poem’s meaning is maintained on an explicit level. Nevertheless, the syntax makes the poem rather complicated and difficult to follow comfortably in some areas (Vendler, 71-110).

The themes of the poem, such as the mortality of the human life, and the ‘curse’ of growing old, provides the poet with an opportunity to place the real fears of man on the scales to be looked at and gazed upon from a dreamy state that almost seems comical as well as ironical to some degree (Vendler, 71). It opens up the human thought on the idea that life, as we know it will end on one fateful appointed day.

Works Cited

Doumerc, Eric, Wendy Harding, and Michel Barrucand. An Introduction to Poetry in English. Toulouse, France: Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2007. Print.

Keats, John, “Ode to a Nightingale.” (1900): 1-4.

Vendler, Helen H. The Odes of John Keats. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap P. of Harvard U.P, 1983. Print.

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