Write an analysis on ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, focus

ing on how Keats presentssome of the ideas he was struggling with at the time.

A major point in “Ode to a Nightingale” is Keats’s perception of the
conflicted nature of human life, i.e., the interconnection or mixture of
pain/joy, life/death, mortal/immortal, the actual/the ideal, and the
inextricable link between the real and the unreal. In the ode, Keats
focuses on immediate sensations and emotions that the reader can draw a
conclusion from or a notion. Throughout the ode he is trying to work
through his ideas and feelings about pleasure and pain, and the link
between the real and the unreal.

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The opening of the poem is very heavy and negative; ‘my heart
aches’, with ‘numbness pains my sense’ making the reader think that it must
be a very heavy pain to be felt when a person is numb. He feels as if he
might have “of hemlock drunk” or “emptied some dull opiate to the drains”;
this resembles the qualities of the Lethe, the Underworld river that the
dead drank from in order to forget all that they had done or said while
living. The feeling is in fact the result of a deep awareness of the
happiness of the nightingale he hears singing; his resulting pleasure is so
intense it has become painful. He feels joy and pain, a response of two
minds – he is happy, but he is too happy, which is then what is causing him
the pain. The ode reads as if Keats is jealous, but he is not, he is
examining the ironic link between happiness and sorrow; can pleasure be so
intense that it numbs us or causes us pain? At the beginning of the ode,
the bird is presented to us as a real bird, but as the poem progresses, the
bird becomes a symbol for the beauties of nature and the ideal world.


In the opening of the poem, a sense of sluggish weightiness is
suggested by the heavy, almost thudding, alliterative sounds produced by
the repetition of ‘d’ (“drowsy”, “drunk”, “dull”, “drains”), ‘m’ (“My”,
“numb”, “hemlock”, “minute”), and ‘p’ (“pains,” emptied”, “opiate”,
“past”). If we compare this to the effects created in the second half of
the stanza by the light assonantal – “trees”, “beechen green” – and
sibilant sounds – “shadows”, “singest”, “summer” – the reader can see that
the nightingale, in comparison to the poet, is a much freer spirit.

Wanting to escape from the pain of a joy-pain reality, Keats begins
to move into a world of imagination or fantasy. He then says he wants to be
intoxicated, clearly not wanting to get drunk, but he is associating the
wine with a quality, or a state of mind which he is seeking. He wishes to
drink to escape the real world, to ‘leave the world unseen’ and enter the
ideal world through fantasy; he wants to be full of warmth and beauty; he
wants to be free like the nightingale. He wishes to forget the negativity,
aging, and the suffering of the world. “Youth grows pale”; could be seen as
him referring to his brother dying of tuberculosis a few years earlier, and
“beauty cannot keep” meaning everything beautiful dies. He personifies
beauty here, with “her lustrous eyes” making beauty human, and so it will
fade and die as all humans do eventually. The description of drinking and
of the world associated with wine is idealized. The word “vintage” refers
to a fine or prime wine; and it is used because if he was drinking a cheap
wine, it would not have as pleasant an effect on him. Positive imagery is
used much more as the feeling in the second stanza becomes a lot lighter,
happier and freer. The activities in line 4 follow one another naturally:
like a dance, and dance is associated with song; together they produce
pleasure (“mirth”), which is ‘sunburnt’ because the country dances are held
outdoors. Keats repeatedly combines different senses in one image; he
attributes the traits of one sense to another, a practice called
synaesthesia. “Sunburnt mirth” is an excellent example of synaesthesia in
Keats’ imagery, since Flora, the green countryside, etc. are being
experienced by Keats through drinking wine in his imagination.

The image of the “beaded bubbles winking at the brim” is much admired
for its onomatopoeic effect; it captures the action of sparkling wine and
the alliteration duplicates the sound of bubbles bursting. This image of
the bubbles is actual; in contrast, the previous imagery in the stanza is
abstract. His awareness of the real world pulls him back from the imagined
world of drunken joy. He still perceives the real world as a world of joy
and pain (the two being linked). Keats thinking of the human circumstance
intensifies Keats’ desire to escape the real world. Keats uses the word
“fade” in the last line of the second stanza and in the first line of the
third stanza to tie the stanzas together and to then be able to move easily
into his next thought. By implication, the nightingale lives in a world
much different to Keats’ own; the nightingale’s world is full of beauty and
therefore will last forever, whilst Keats’ own world will not, it will one
day die and fade away.

A
Keats suddenly cries out “Away! away! for I will fly to thee.” He then
turns to fantasy again; he rejects the idea of drinking wine in line 2, and
in line 3 he announces he is going to use “the viewless wings of Poesy” to
join the nightingale. He explains that it might be difficult to get there,
but in fact he is already there with the nightingale in the fantasy world
in his mind. He contrasts the experience through poetry to the “dull brain”
that “perplexes and retards” (line 4); the mind is often related to work,
while the heart is usually related to emotion. In line 5, he seems to
succeed in joining the nightingale. The imagined world described in the
rest of the stanza is dark; “there is no light”, associating the light and
the dark to Plato’s’ Cave; the theory of the harsh light being the real
world, and the soft darkness is the ideal world.

ABecause Keats cannot see
in the darkness, he relies on his other senses, taking us through them in
the next stanza. Not being able to see makes the experience more intense,
and the language intensifies with it, and the tone of the poem changes.

Even in the dark refuge, death is present; “embalmed” meaning both a
method of burial and a sweet smell. Even in the ideal world there are still
negative points. The hints of death bring the tone of the ode down again,
to prepare us for his ‘coming out’ of his ‘trance’ in the last stanza. It
could be said that death was almost anticipated (in a sort of prophetic
irony) by the vague suggestions in the words “Lethe,” “hemlock,” “drowsy
numbness,” “poisonous,” and “shadowy darkness”
In the sixth stanza, Keats starts to distance himself from the
nightingale, which he joined in imagination in the earlier parts of the
ode. Keats says he yearns to die, a state which he imagines as only joyful,
as pain-free, and a state in which he can truly merge with the bird’s song.

The nightingale is set apart as wholly blissful–“full-throated ease” in
the first stanza and “pouring forth thy soul abroad / In such an ecstasy!”
(lines 7-8). In the last two lines of this stanza, the poet no longer
identifies with the bird. He realizes what death means for him; death is
not release from pain; rather it means non-existence, the inability to feel
the bird’s ecstasy. Keats realizes that it is the song that will last, not
the bird, because if the nightingale were to fly away, the song would leave
with it.

Keats moves from his awareness of his own mortality in the preceding
stanza to the perception of the bird’s immortality. On a literal level, his
perception is wrong; this bird will die. On another level, he is suggesting
that the nightingale is a symbol of the continuity of nature.

A
“Forlorn” and “perilous” would not ordinarily be associated with
magic/enchantment. These words hint at the pain the poet recognized in the
beginning of the poem and that which he is trying to escape.


The poet repeats the word “forlorn” from the end of the seventh
stanza; Keats is now forlorn, as thinking of the world has brought him back
into the real world. He describes the word forlorn as a bell, and each word
from “the very” to “sole self” has one syllable, and when read sounds very
much like the tolling of a bell. In lines 2 and 3 or this stanza, the poet
says that “fancy” (his imagination) has cheated him, as has the “elf” (the
nightingale). The bird has ceased to be a symbol and is again the actual
bird the poet heard in the first stanza. Keats, like the nightingale, has
returned to the real world. The bird’s song becomes a “plaintive anthem”
and gets fainter as it flies away, which is Keats examining the idea of
permanence through art, and art being beauty. If the bird flies away, the
song will leave too. The song ‘dying’ is the last of the death images
running through the poem.

With the last two lines of the ode, Keats wonders whether he has had
a true experience or whether he has been daydreaming. He is both
questioning the validity of the experience, and expressing his inability to
maintain a true vision for a long time. This is another time where he
examines the permanence of things in art and the imagination. Is his
experience a false vision, or is it a true experience of insight into the
nature of reality?