Analysis of Ode to a Nightingale by Keats
Essay title: Analysis of Ode to a Nightingale by Keats
Ode to a Nightingale
This ode was inspired after Keats heard the song of a nightingale while staying with a friend in the country. This poem was also written after the death of his brother and the many references to death in this poem are a reflection of this. Among the thematic concerns in this poem is the wish to escape life through different routes. Although the poem begins by describing the song of an actual nightingale, the nightingale goes on to become a symbol of the immortality of nature.
In lines 1-3 Keats expresses a wish to dull and numb his senses artificially. He wishes to use “hemlock” or “some dull opiate” to numb his pain. He also makes a reference to Lethe, the river that those who are about to be reincarnated must drink from to forget their old lives when he says in line 4 that he has to “Lethe-wards…sunk”. However it is not out of envy of the joy in the bird’s song but because he is too happy that he wishes to numb his senses. In line 7 Keats refers to the nightingale as a “Dryad of the trees”, a tree spirit, the bird has become a symbol.
In stanza two, Keats call “for a draught of vintage” that tastes of “Flora and country-green”. In line 14 the wine tastes of “Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth”. “Provencal” was a language used by medieval troubadours. Here Keats does not want to be drunk but rather he wants the wine to get into a state of happiness and merriment. He also wishes the wine to inspire him when he alludes to the “Hippocrene” in line 16, a fountain sacred to the muses said to bring poetic inspiration to those who drank from it.
The idea that wine will give him ideas is illustrated in line 17 with “beaded bubbles winking at the brim”. Besides describing the Hippocrene, the bubbles are Keats’ thoughts about to overflow. Drink is also a way for him to escape as he wishes to “fade away into the forest dim”. The word “Fade” is repeated at the beginning of the first line of stanza three; joining it to the previous stanza.
In this stanza Keats wants to escape the “weariness, the fever, and the fret” of mortal life that the nightingale “hast never known”. Human life is seen as full of sadness and sickness in lines 24 and 25. In the human world, “youth gown pale…and dies”, it is clear that everything is fleeting in the human world. This point is further illustrated in lines 29 and 30, “where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes” and “new Love” does not last “beyond to-morrow”.
Keats then rejects the escapism provided by wine when he says, “Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards”. Bacchus is the god of wine and Keats firmly states he will not use wine to escape life but will instead fly on “the viewless wings of Poesy”. Viewless here means invisible and in this line Keats is embracing the fanciful. In the next line he rejects the analytical way of life saying, “the dull brain perplexes and retards”.
Keats then discovers the “Queen-Moon…on her throne” “haply”. The use of the word haply means by chance, Keats did not expect to meet the “Queen-Moon” surrounded by her “starry Fays”. In line 38 “there is no light” in his surroundings and