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Ode to a Nightingale John Keats

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1 Ode to a Nightingale John Keats

2 Keats…thoughts on the Imagination
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination” “My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk” “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be the truth”

3 Form and Structure Keats and his Romantic peers almost single-handedly revived the ode form for modern readers with poems like The ode is an Ancient Greek song performed at formal occasions, usually in praise of its subject. "Ode to a Nightingale" is a particular kind of ode – a Horatian ode, after the Roman poet Horace. In general, a Horatian ode has a consistent stanza length and metre. "Ode to a Nightingale" is notable for being the longest of Keats's six "Great Odes." It is also often considered the most personal, with its reflections on death and the stresses of life. The poem has eight separate stanzas of ten lines each, and the metre of each line in the stanza, except for the eighth, is iambic pentametre. The eighth line is written in iambic trimetre which means it has only three stresses in the line, not five.

4 Romantic Odes There are usually three elements in a Romantic Ode:
the description of a particularised outer natural scene; an extended meditation, which the scene stimulates, and which may be focused on a private problem or a universal situation or both; the occurrence of an insight or vision, a resolution or decision, which signals a return to the scene originally described, but with a new perspective created by the intervening meditation.

5 Stanza I As you read, pick out which words express his pleasure and which ones express his pain and which words express his intense feeling and which his numbed feeling. Consider whether pleasure can be so intense that, paradoxically, it either numbs us or causes pain. What qualities does the poet ascribe to the nightingale?

6 Analysis – Stanza I Sense of anguish and lethargy
Feeling of numbness is linked to taking ‘hemlock’ or an ‘opiate’ Romantic notion – loss of sensation = death. The pain the persona feels is sluggish Paradoxically – his distress is a result of being too happy. The nightingale has freedom and a sense of the supernatural There is an idyllic surrounding and everything seems easy for the bird – the persona wishes that creativity came so easily.

7 Stanza II Think about the effects alcohol has; which one or ones is the poet seeking? Since his goal is to join the bird, what quality or qualities of the bird does he want to experience? How might alcohol enable him to achieve that desire? Does the wine resemble the nightingale in being associated with summer, song, and happiness?

8 Analysis – Stanza II The persona wishes for intoxication, but not through ordinary means. The wine must be special and mysterious from the “deep-delved earth” It must have power and full of the richness of summer “a beaker full of the warm South”. The reference to the font of poetic inspiration – Hippocrene indicates the powerful role of the imagination. The persona is seeking an overwhelming experience “beaded bubbles, winking at the brim” Rich, energetic language contrasts the langour of the first stanza He longs for an escape from the real world “leave the world unseen” (perhaps Keats’ partiality for death?)

9 Stanza III Does thinking of the human condition intensify, diminish, or have no effect on the poet's desire to escape the world? What is the relationship of the bird to the world the poet describes? By implication, what kind of world does the nightingale live in? (Is it the same as or different from the poet's?)

10 Analysis – Stanza III States all of the things the persona finds unsatisfactory in his human existence. Repetition of “the” in “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” conveys sense of tiredness. Focus on the movement of death “where youth grows pale” Disdains the restrictions of mortality “where but to think is to be full of sorrow” Longing for permanence but shows the difficulties in achieving inspiration. Think about the contrasts in the imagery in this stanza, compared to the previous stanza.

11 Stanza IV In choosing Poesy, is he calling on analytical or scientific reasoning, on poetry and imagination, on passion, on sensuality, or on some something else? The imagined world described in the rest of the stanza is dark; what qualities are associated with this darkness, e.g., is it frightening, safe, attractive, empty, fulfilling, sensuous, alive?

12 Analysis – Stanza IV “Away! away!” sense of agitation at the start of the stanza. He decides that his imagination will take him away to accompany the nightingale. Even though this is flawed “viewless”, he states that the limitations come from human limitations “the dull brain perplexes and retards” He imagines that he is with the bird “Already with thee” and this brings about sensitivity “tender is the night” Inspiration has come from imagination - but even this is flawed “but here there is no light” – he hoped to find inspiration in the heavens, but it is a fantasy.

13 Stanza V The imagined world described in the rest of the stanza is dark; what qualities are associated with this darkness, e.g., is it frightening, safe, attractive, empty, fulfilling, sensuous, alive? Even in this refuge, death is present; what words hint of death? In the progression of the seasons, what changes occur between spring and summer? how do they differ (as, for instance, autumn brings fulfillment, harvest, and the beginning of decay which becomes death in winter)? Why might Keats leap to thoughts of the summer to come?

14 Analysis – Stanza V The lack of vision, highlights his disillusionment – there is a clear sense of the natural world’s beauty but the persona is “embalmed in darkness” Sensual portrayal of seasonal beauty – personification, detail in description and onomatopoeia Ironically while there are flaws in the imagination, it is the imagination that allows for the persona to “see” and “smell” the beauty in the darkness.

15 Stanza VI Is there any suggestion of the bird's dying or experiencing anything but bliss? Note the contrast between the bird's singing and the poet's hearing that song. What are the emotional effects of or associations with "high requiem" and "sod"? Why does Keats now hear the bird's song as a requiem? Is there any irony in Keats's using the same word to describe both the nightingale and death--the bird sings with "full-throated ease" at the end of stanza I and death is "easeful" (line 2 of this stanza)?

16 Analysis – Stanza VI Image of darkness continues “darkling”
Confesses thoughts that death could be an escape “I have been half-in love with easeful Death”. Poetic euphemism for death “take into the air my quiet breath” The persona recognises that the bird will be able to continue even though he would not hear it His death then, leads to a separation from the bird’s song. Juxtaposition of images: “high requiem” and “sod”

17 Stanza VII Explain the meaning of the word “immortal”.
What ideas or aspects of human life do the references to ancient days and the biblical allusions represent? Does bringing up the idea of pain prepare us or help to prepare us for the final stanza?

18 Analysis – Stanza VII The significance of the birds and its song is emphasised “thou was not born for death, immortal Bird!” The song of the bird represents perfection and beauty. The bird’s song has comforted through time “in ancient days” This highlights how people have been charmed by the imagination The supernatural element in the last two lines of the stanza show that the imagination transcends mortality and time.

19 Stanza VIII The persona repeats the word "forlorn" from the end of stanza VII; who or what is now forlorn? Is the poet identified with or separate from the nightingale? What delusion is the poet awakening from? Is there change in the bird, in the poet, or in both? What is the persona questioning at the end of the poem? In what ways has the persona changed? Think about the tone at the end of the poem.

20 Analysis - Stanza VIII “Forlorn” indicates that the imaginative reverie is over – the persona awakes to reality as he was always destined to. Repetition of “adieu” shows his reluctance to leave the bird. The bird continues to the “next valley glades” but its song continues. Confusion has returned – his insight (in the preceding stanzas) has gone and he is left in uncertainty “Do I wake or sleep?” Feels bereft without the music of the bird. He has been privileged with extraordinary revelations, however, this has come at a cost. He realises he cannot escape the ordinary world and therefore, he cannot achieve the state of perfect imaginative creativity.

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