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Ode to a Nightingale By: John Keats.

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1 Ode to a Nightingale By: John Keats

2 About John Keats Born in 1795, died in 1821
Poet of the English Romantic movement. Keats believed in the theory of negativity which stipulates that ‘being uncertain’ allows a mind to access a well of knowledge. It is a state of open mindedness. This ‘let things be theory’ can be seen in such present day authors as Philip Pullman in his The Subtle Knife.

3 About ‘Ode to a Nightingale’
While residing with his friend, Charles Brown, in the spring of 1819 Keats was observed sitting by the garden for several hours listening to a nightingale’s song. Upon his return, the scraps of paper on which he had written his thoughts became ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. This is a lyric poem which is often a short poem with only one speaker who is expressing complex emotions. This poem is also an ode, a type of lyric poem that has an elevated style and a serious subject. This poem is a series of immediate thoughts and emotions felt by Keats at one time. It is a chief example of his theory of negativity.

4 Stanza I Background Hemlock- a poison used by the Ancient Greeks.
Lethe- classical Greek; one the of the seven rivers of Hades; whoever drunk from its experience forgetfulness Dryad- oak tree nymphs who were frequently shy

5 Stanza I 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.

6 Stanza I Analysis Throughout this stanza we see that while listening to a nightingale Keats experiences a mixture of pain and joy. In fact, he feels pain in the intense pleasure of the bird’s song (‘but being too happy in thine happiness’) Also in this stanza we become aware that the nightingale will transform from a mere bird to an essential symbol.

7 The Nightingale Uncovered
After the first stanza we already see that the nightingale is not merely an animal. Keats might mean it to symbolize: Joy - Keats himself - Nature

8 Stanza II Background Flora- Roman Goddess of flowers
Hippocrene-Greek mythology; the fountain on Mt. Helion that was sacred to the Muses and formed by the hooves of Pegasus; drinking the water brings poetic inspiration Provencal- an area in the south of France. Vintage- fine wine

9 Stanza II 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 Provencal 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:

10 Stanza II Analysis Unlike the pain felt in the first stanza here we see Keats attempting to escape reality and move to a more fanciful world. Important in this stanza is the specific words Keats invokes to better visualize the state he wishes to achieve. Words like ‘vintage’, ‘green’, and ‘sunburnt mirth’ (since they danced in the summer time) heighten the unreality of the scene. It is important to note that while it seems Keats is attempting to get drunk, that is not his goal. Instead, because of the wine his world is idealized. Perhaps he reaches the state of ‘negativity’. The theme of wine and merriment is continued in the phrase ‘beaded bubbles winking at the brim’ which gives us a sense of champagne. Also notice the alliteration, like bubbles popping.

11 Stanza III 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 grey 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.

12 Stanza III Analysis After a stanza of merriment the author is pulled back to reality, one without the joy of the first stanza. The tone of the stanza is forlorn, and depressed, and we see by the use of ‘fade,’ ‘far away’, and ‘dissolve’ that the poet is numb, and disconnected once more.

13 Stanza IV Background Bacchus- Greek god of wine and patron of theatre; also known as the Liberator who would bring an end to care or worry; he would also preside over communication between the living and the dead. Fays- fairies Poesy- another name for poetry; fanciful poetry

14 Stanza IV 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.

15 Stanza IV Analysis Now Keats is turning back to imagination as we see by the opening phrase, ‘Away! Away! For I will fly to thee”. But he has decided against using spirits to reach the fantasy world, instead he will use poetry or ‘poesy’. In the phrase ‘the dull brain (that) perplexes and retards,’ and the idea that poetry is ‘viewless’ we see that he is attempting to discard logic in favor for emotion and feeling. We see that he is attempting to escape using poetry “poesy”. The tone of the stanza is dark. The author is ‘viewless’, and there is ‘no light’ despite the moon being out and the stars shining. This darkness could be seen as frightening, but more likely the poet welcomes the dark, seeing it as a safe haven from thought and reality which he is trying to escape. Moonlight can also be seen as a symbol for imagination and fantasy which further enhances the idea of welcoming darkness and night.

16 Stanza V Background Hawthorn- a flower that often marks that spring has arrived; ‘May blossom’ embalmed-fragrant; preserved body Eglantine- rose

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

18 Stanza V Analysis The sensuous imagery in this stanza is especially present in the poet’s employment of flowers. After stanza IV, where the poet is blinded he must rely on other senses. Our sense of touch is teased by ‘the grass, the thicket, the fruit tree wild, but also our sense of smell which we feel in ‘musk-rose’. We see now that the darkness is indeed a refuge, but we also understand that there is death even in this safe place. The violets are ‘fading’. May has many children (‘eldest child’), and there is the hint of summer in the nightingale’s song which would lead to the end of spring. The theme of lurking death is also present in the double meanings for ‘embalmed’. The darkness is sweet, but death is closing in on it. This death might have been foreshadowed in the first stanza with the poisonous flowers and the classical references to death.

19 Stanza VI 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 it seems 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.

20 Stanza VI Analysis Requiem- song for the dead
The bird, whose blissful and easy song the author has long desired, is changing in this stanza. The poet, who has believed that death might free him and make him like the bird, has realized that death is an end to life, not a beginning to it. He realizes his error and now knows that if he were to die then he could never feel the bird’s jubilation. The bird’s shift in meaning is also evident in the change in its song. It is now a ‘requiem’, a song of death, which would make its admirer, the poet, a ‘sod’.

21 Stanza VII Background Ruth- character from the Bible; a Maobite who, while working in the fields, was seen by Boaz who married her; she is referenced for her devotion to her mother-in-law after Boaz died and she has achieved immortality for her deeds and because her descendent is David

22 Stanza VII Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear passing this 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 ofttimes hath Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

23 Stanza VII Analysis After describing his own mortality, Keats begins to ponder the bird’s immortality. Although we know that a bird is not immortal it is possible Keats is describing the immortality of what the bird symbolizes (joy, nature, beauty). The bird’s song will live forever, and has lived since the beginning of time. The bird’s immortality is also seen in its connectedness with nature, something that man lacks. The bird doesn’t know it is going to die, so it is free from death whereas as men are constantly aware of it. It is also necessary to note that it might be our ability to comment and admire nature, as Keats is doing, that separates us. Also, compared to the bird’s blissful life, humans or constantly ‘hungry’. For immortality? Or are we hungry for that joining with nature that Keats sought in the first several stanzas of the poem.

24 Stanza VII Analysis Continued
The passage of time in this stanza is also important. Keats moves from concrete time, ‘ancient days by emperor and clown,’ to Biblical time with his reference to Ruth and her loyalty, and finally to unsubstantial time, that of ‘fairy lands forlorn’. Because of this disintegration of time the past becomes more separated. The painful imagery of the three depictions of time, even the fanciful one, allows us to see that Keats is still trying to distance himself from it. He is still in pain.

25 Stanza VIII 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 famed 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 is a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music:--do I wake or sleep?

26 Stanza VIII Analysis The final stanza is the poet awakening from his musings. The bird, or the ‘deceiving elf’, has resumed the guise of a real bird once more. The awakening causes the poet to also wonder whether what he has written were merely musings, daydreams, or had he reached that state of open mindedness that he sought in the beginning? Has Keats benefited from his mind trip? The last stanza’s tone is regretful and despairing and it seems he feels cheated, but we may find hope. Is there the promise of future musings in ‘and now ‘tis buried deep in the next valley-glades’?

27 IMMORTALITY Despite the poet’s indecision at the end of the poem there is something to be gleaned from his words. Keats discusses the continuity of nature and, in a way, its constant changing through the references of seasons. Beyond the immortality of nature, Keats might also be commenting on the immortality of beauty, of how arts change like the moon but are constantly present.

28 Keats’ Immortality It is important to note that at the time Keats wrote this poem he was ill, probably having contracted tuberculosis (consumption). His brother, Tom, had just died months before. There was no cure at the time for the disease and it is speculated that he wrote ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ because he was aware of his own mortality. Keats died in Italy two months after staying with his friend, at the age of twenty-five.


30 Works Cited “Ode to a Nightingale”. John Keats. August 24, Gale: 7 March

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