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?
“Ode to a Nightingale” is a complicated lyrical poem in which the poet seeks relief from a humdrum existence and the suffering of life by escaping to the imaginary world of a nightingale. The poem is an expression of exalted emotions that the poet feels about the transience of the nature of reality.
The poet addresses the nightingale directly in some unspecified setting in spring. He presents his main themes of the contradictory nature of life, such as the dualities of pain and joy, life and death, pleasure and numbness, real and ideal, time and timelessness, and mortality and immortality. The poem represents a conflict between the imaginative and the real world. For Keats, the real world is the world of mutability and flux, which causes pain, whereas the imaginative world of the nightingale is immortal and devoid of pain.
The title of the poem, “Ode to the Nightingale,” refers to the poet’s address to a nightingale, whose song symbolizes relief for him. The poet longs to escape from the human world into that of the bird. The tone of the poem is highly ambivalent and conflicting. The poem begins with the pain of the real world: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains.” The poet then adds how the imaginative world has comforted him: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen.” He wants to escape into the world of the nightingale to avoid pains of this real world.
The second stanza beautifully describes the real world: “Where but to think is to be full of sorrow / And leaden-eyed despairs.” Later, the poet delves into other darker emotions with, “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, / But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet.” This state of negative capability is something Keats explained in letters he wrote to Leigh Hunt and his brother.
In the sixth stanza, the poet hopes to end his pain—“half in love with easeful Death” —but declares that beauty overcomes everything else, including the moribund state he is in at the present moment. Saying adieu to the bird, the poet is perplexed at his state, thinking, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?” The journey, which the poet started with the description of real world, ends in the imaginative world of the nightingale where there is no pain, no suffering, and no worldly cares. However, the music has evaporated into the air, which shows the transitory nature of happiness.
The poem is divided into eight stanzas with ten lines in each stanza. Its metrical pattern is variable, unlike other poems of Keats. The pattern of first seven and final two lines follow iambic pentameter, such as in “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,” whereas the eighth line follows trimetric pattern: “The same that oft-times hath.” The rhyme scheme of this ode is ABABCDECDE throughout the poem.
The poet uses alliteration in seventh stanza in “self-same song.” There is also an allusion to the Biblical tale of Ruth. The eighth stanza contains a simile: “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!” The poet uses imagery throughout the poem, such as in the second stanza when he stimulates the sense of taste in “Tasting of Flora and the country green,” the sense of hearing as, “Provençal song,” and the sense of sight as in, “purple-stained mouth.” Assonance is used in the first stanza: “Of beechen green.” The poem also contains enjambment in different lines such as, “My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, / Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains.” The syntax here does not make complete sense in a single line; rather, it carries the meaning to the next line.
Guidance for Usage of Quotes
Since the bird is symbolic of art and nature in this ode, and there is comparison between the real world and the imaginative world of the nightingale, the speaker compares the mortality of human life to the permanence of creative expression. There are feelings of beauty, solace, comfort, and love, along with pains and agonies of this transitory life. This poem also contains a message for lovers who are fed up with pains of the real world. They can escape into imaginative world and refer to their loved ones as nightingales, such as in these lines:
“O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth.”