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"Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats
Transcript of "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats
by John Keats Group 3
Mikhajlena Greco-Roman Figures Beauty, Love and Death Drugs and Poison Ruth Bacchus and his pards Dryad Hippocrene Lethe John Keats Tone Summary General Info John Keats was born on October 31, 1975 to a stable-keeper and his wife. When he was eight his father died in an accident, and his mother swiftly remarried. She eventually left her second husband, taking her children to live with their grandmother. Shortly after, she died of consumption, and the children were raised by two guardians. His guardians removed him from the school he was attending to apprentice Keats to a surgeon. Near his completion of the apprenticeship, he had an argument with his Master, and left to attend a hospital school in London. Here he also studied literature, eventually giving up medicine entirely.
During 1817, his brother Tom was diagnosed with consumption, and left to John's care. Tom died in December of 1818. In 1820 John himself started displaying signs of the disease, and despite falling in love with Londoner Fanny, he was forced to move to Italy to ward off consumption with warmer weather. Keats died of the disease on February 23 1821 in Rome, at the age of twenty six. Keats uses a multitude of figurative language to
convey his tone throughout this poem.
The speaker describes his numbness and heartache hearing the song of the nightingale somewhere in the forest. He toys with the idea of the oblivion that alcohol could lead him to. He speaks softly to death, embracing the idea of painless death and the escape from humanity. Alas with the departure of the nightingale, the speaker cannot distinguish between reality or a dream. There are three main images that stand out in the poem, and with each new idea the tone changes. The first main tone of the poem is of agony which is described through the image of Keats' evolution of life. To Keats, his life is full of tears and frustration. He is momentarily happy because he hears the song of the nightingale which he describes as “a melodious plot”, and that the bird “Singest of summer with full-throated ease”. These words play on the audience’s sense of hearing, using consonance and musical wording to imitate the birds song. He is then, however, pulled back into his lethargic state because he realizes that life is bitter and unbearable. This idea is demonstrated in lines 29 and 30, there beauty and love cannot last. He is in agony because the nightingales' song had made him much more aware of his unhappiness.
The second tone of the poem is one of hopelessness and misery which is described through the image of Keats hoping he will die and be free from the shackles of life (his death-wish). He describes death as easeful, and that “it seems rich to die,” while the bird is “Pouring forth thy soul abroad/In such an ecstasy!”. These lines are reminiscent of the ideal that the bird has made him aware of his unhappiness. The final tone of the poem is one of cognizance because when he says that "fancy cannot cheat so well/As she is famed to do" he admits that escaping into his imagination won't allow him to escape from the troubles of his life. “That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees . . . Singest of summer in full-throated ease”
Here Keats is being a bit redundant as a Dryad is an ancient Greek nymph of the trees, almost always female. They were heavily used by the Romantic poets as the representation of a shy, beautiful, “spirit of the earth” who could only be seen by those with the proper eyes (as Dryads are traditionally portrayed as being) fit in well with their idealization of nature and their sense that they alone could truly sense that. So here Keats is perhaps conveying a bit of the frustration he feels at being alone able to be enraptured by this dryad-like nightingale while also emphasizes its purity and idealized beauty. "Full of the true, blushful Hippocrene"
The Hippocrene was a fountain in Greek mythology that was sacred to the muses. It was supposed to bring poetic inspiration when a person drank the water from the fountain. (Hesiod)
The idea that the narrator needs poetic inspiration is important because he is demonstrating his need for the ability to express himself in order to find relief from society and humanity. The narrator's need for the fountain demonstrates his need to escape. "Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards"
Bacchus is the Roman god of wine. Pards refers to leopards or other large felines, which are symbols associated with him. (Ovid)
Here, Bacchus is used as a metonym for alcohol. The allusion to the god of wine is significant because it demonstrates the idea that the narrator cannot rely on alcohol as a means to escape depressing reality. PERSONIFICATION and APOSTROPHE The poem opens with an establishment of tone through the words, “a drowsy numbness pains.” He is using the symbol of drugs and opiates to demonstrate the numbness that he feels. This numbing of the senses makes it so that he does not envy the nightingales happiness through his song. However he eludes to being “too happy, in thy happiness”. He is sharing the nightingales happiness too much, which causes his “heart ache, and numbness pains,” as if the happiness is bittersweet. “Perhaps the self-same song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth”
The speakers uses an allusion to Ruth of the Old Testament of the bible which points to the immortality of the nightingales song and the immortality of nature which continues on with the nightingale's song. Throughout his poem, Keats makes allusions to figures of Greek and Roman mythology. This is important in that it demonstrates the timelessness that Keats thinks of when imagining the song of the nightingale. ALLUSION More Figurative Language and Literary Devices ALLUSION and METONYMY The Nightingale The nightingale is important as it symbolizes immortality and freedom.
In Greek mythology, a woman named Procne was turned into a nightingale in order to be free from her husband. (Ovid)
Throughout the poem, Keats describes this idea of the nightingale being free and timeless, emphasizing his own desire to be free of society and humanity. The Nightingale's Song
The song of the nightingale is important as it symbolizes ideals and perfection that Keats finds lacking in society. Keats describes the song as timeless, especially in his description of the nightingale continuing to sing after his (the narrator's) death. Works Cited Keats, John. "Ode to a Nightingale." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New Jersey. Pearson. 2005. 759-761. Print.
Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. M.L. West. Oxford University Press, 1988. Print.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. A.D. Melville. Oxford University Press, 1986. Print. Sod Fancy Poesy Dying Man In comparing the narrator's body to the ground and dirt, Keats emphasizes the idea that the narrator's life is depressing as he vaguely refers to the narrator's death and how the nightingale would continue to sing after he has died. This also emphasizes how meaningless and short the narrators life is because the nightingale is timeless. METAPHOR Alcohol SIMILE, APOSTROPHE and SYMBOLISm “Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,” The apostrophe to the bird and the personification of death show the appeal and familiarity of the concept of Death to the speaker. It emphasizes the idea that death would be an escape from reality and society.
“Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain” demonstrates the idea that if he were to pass the nightingale would continue to sing but he would not be able to hear its ecstatic song. Queen Moon PERSONIFICATION and SYMBOLISM Keats uses a form of personification and symbolism in referring to the “Queen-Moon”. He is describing how even the majesty of the moon cannot penetrate into the “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.” Only the wind from the heavens can move the branches enough to allow a little bit of light into the forest glade where he accompanies the nightingale and his song. It begins with a simile comparing the taste of wine (vintage) to country green and the experience of peasant dances. Leading him into oblivion.
Alcohol is a symbol to “leave the word unseen and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” The speaker is eluding to the fact that the song of the nightingale is leading him to a state of disconnection from the present, comparatively to a state of drunkenness. SIMILE and SYMBOLISM ALLUSION SYMBOLISM SYMBOLISM Rhyme Scheme “Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.”
Keat’s personification of “fancy” as a glorified (as shown in the way she is “fam’d”), fleeting ideal is telling in the way it creates a pseudo social barrier between the poet and his medium of expression. By emphasizing the gap between his ideal and himself, the poet is expressing again the overall theme of the poem, that happiness can only be achieved through self-delusion. PERSONIFICATION “Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, Where youth grows pale, and specter-thin, and dies; Where but to think is to be full of sorrow. . .”
“To thy high requiem become sod”
The theme of the “dying man” and death runs throughout this poem, Keat’s says he has been “half in love” with it and also imagines his decaying into “sod” while the nightingale sings on. Basically, after the exhilarating experience of listening to this bird, Keats feels that life can offer him no greater pleasure and it would be best to die before he has the chance to become disappointed. Such a blatant contradiction—that at the moment life seems most vicarious, death seems most attractive can be seen as the inevitable paradox that the Romantics hit in their impossibly elevated view of nature. They dying man is also a symbol of humanity and society, representing the weariness of people. SYMBOLISM and THEME METAPHOR and ALLUSION ALLUSION PERSONIFICATION “Not charioted by Bacchus and his ‘pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy”
Here the poet has rejected the banal; physical means of ecstasy and decides instead to use his (rather overworked) brain and imagination instead. This line is powerful in that it encompasses the Romantic’s view of life almost completely—rather than stoop down to the common (getting drunk), they relied on the spirit within, and expressing that spirit into words, to provide pleasure. Though this idea is more than a little egocentric (relying on one’s own brain to delight oneself), it ushered in a new age. “. . . emptied some dull opiate to the drains One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk”
Lethe was one of the five rivers located in the underworld and was also called “The River of Unmindfullness” in Greek mythology and everyone who drank from its waters experienced (predictably) total forgetfulness. By including such a connotative image—as it would have been to his contemporaries—Keats would have enhanced his overall image of blissful amnesia portrayed in the first part of the first stanza. He is also demonstrating how very Romantic he is as, though he is supposedly (according to the poem), writing his feelings down in a gush, there is no way he could be thinking up these ancient Greek allusions while in such total forgetfulness. This ode displays an A B A B C D E C D E rhyme scheme and is divided into 8 stanzas.