Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

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.

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 Provençal 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:

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 gray 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.

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.

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

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 seems it 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.

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

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 fam’d 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 it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

Summary of Ode to a Nightingale

  • Popularity: Written by John Keats, a popular romantic poet, “Ode to Nightingale “is a phenomenal poem that relates life’s sufferings to the briefness of the bird’s song. It was first published in 1819. The poem explores the wonder of life and death. It comprises the experience of the poet, his miseries and poetic imagination. Its popularity lies in the fact that it represents things related to life, art, literature, and nature and seeks a common relationship among them.
  • As a Representative of life and Death:  The poem explores two main issues: the first is the connection between agony and joy and the second is the connection between life and death. The poet very artistically draws a comparison between natural and imaginative world, the world of a nightingale. Saddened, he tries to seek comfort and harmony in his imaginative world, but the pull of his consciousness brings him back to confront the heart-wrenching realities of life. Ultimately, he realizes that only death can offer a permanent escape from pain.  Disturbed by the misfortune of his life, he wants the finest wine and his poetic imagination to throw away the horrific realities of life. His desire to be drunk or unconscious shows that he does not to remember his hardships and sufferings. However, what enchants the reader is his flight of imagination that temporarily takes him away from the odds of life.
  • Major Themes: Death, immortality, mortality and poetic imaginations are some of the major themes of this ode. Keats says that death is an unavoidable phenomenon. He paints it in both negative and positive ways. On the one hand, its presence sucks the human spirit, while on the other hand, it offers the realm of free eternity. The poet also presents the life and melodious song of the nightingale in juxtaposition. To him, life is mortal, but the song of the nightingale is immortal. It has been a source of enjoyment for centuries and will stay so even after his demise. Though he keeps himself engaged in the beautiful and charming world of imaginations, he cannot stay there for good. Therefore, he accepts that imagination is just a short source of peace.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Ode to Nightingale”

Literary devices are tools used by writers and poets to convey emotions, ideas, and beliefs. With the help of these devices, they make their texts appealing to the reader. Keats has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it unique and appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /th/ in “That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees”.
  2. Simile: A simile is a figure of speech used to compare something with something else to make its meaning clear. Keats has used simile in the second stanza, Forlorn! the very word is like a bell.” Here the poet is comparing forlorn to a bell.
  3. Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without a pause after the end of a line in a couplet or stanza. For example:

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains.

  1. Imagery: The use of imagery makes the readers visualize the writer’s feelings, emotions or ideas. Keats has used images to present a clear and vivid picture of his miserable plight such as, “though of hemlock I had drunk,”, “Past the near meadows,”, “Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of same vowel sounds in the same lines of poetry such as the sound of /o/ in “In some melodious plot” and /i/ sound in “The voice I hear this passing night was heard.”
  3. Metaphor: There are two metaphors in this poem. The first one is used in line eleven, “for a beaker full of the warm south”. Here he compares liquid with the southern country weather.
  4.  Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to non-human things. Keats has used personification in line twenty-nine, “where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes” as if the beauty is human and can see. The second example is in line thirty-six, “The Queen moon is on her throne.”
  5. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition initial words of sentences in sequence or in the whole stanza or even the poem. Keats has repeated the word “where” in the following lines to emphasize the existence of his imaginative world. For example:

“Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray 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.”

6. Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody from afar. The poet has used this device in line sixty-one, “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird.”

The literary analysis shows that this poem successfully describes Keat’s deep meditations about death under cover of these literary devices.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Ode to Nightingale”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: Stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight stanzas in this poem with ten lines in each stanza.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABABCDECDE throughout the poem with iambic pentameter.
  3. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious such as in the first stanza the rhyming words are, “pains”, “drains”, “drunk”, “sunk.”
  4. Internal Rhyme: Internal rhyme is rhyme within a line such as in the line, “To toll me back from thee to my sole self” two words “me” and “thee” rhyme with each other.
  5. Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter consisting of five iambs. The poem comprises iambic pentameter such as, “My Heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains.”

 Quotes to be Used

These lines can be used in a speech when discussing the power and pull of the imaginative world that offers a peaceful escape from the heavy odds of life.

“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 Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!”