Analysis of JOHN KEATS' Ode to a Nightingale : A Commentry on Art and Life

Keatsian Romanticism stresses strong emotion and the individual imagination as the ultimate critical and moral authority. His ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is one of the finest achievements of such motifs. It is a ‘richly meditative ode’ as Prof Hereford calls it. The whole poem is built on the “thought of the contrast between the Joy, beauty and apparent permanence of the bird song and the sorrow and transience of beauty and joy in human life”. He had heard the “still sad music of humanity”. Read More Romantic Period The song fills him with a desire to escape from the hard reality of life into the world of love and beauty, into the world of visions and passions, into the world of the blessed. The nightingale’s song in the poem symbolizes the beauty of nature and art.

Keats’s poetry is soaked in the beauty of the Earth as ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’. The contrast between the sordidness of the reality and the beauty of the ideal world, between the mortality of the life and immortality of nature, between the imperfection of real life and the beauty of imagination is the recurring theme of his poetry. The song of the Nightingale increases the poem a mood of deep delight which becomes painful in its intensity. He has drunk in the rich music of the Nightingale’s song; his whole being is full of it. Read More Romantic Period The effect is like that of Hemlock or some dull-opiate. He wants to stimulate himself. He likes to take the help wine which must be cooled in a cellar for a long time. He wishes:
                  “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-stainèd mouth;”

But unfortunately the poet can not escape from the world of “the fever and the fret”, it is a place:-
                 “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 tomorrow”.

                Being an escapist Keats wants to throw of the burden of self consciousness and sinks gradually into the world of imagination. Finally, by the help of the poetic imagination, he makes himself able to fly in the world of the Nightingale. Read More Romantic Period The Keatsian beauty stands rolling. The queen moon is on her throne, the night is tender one;The moon is cluster around by all her ‘starry Fays’.

                In the darkness of the forest the nightingale sings spontaneously his world is one of “shadow numberless and verdurous glooms’. Though he can not see what flowers are at his feet but in this ‘embalmed darkness; guess sweet, where with the seasonable month endows”.   It is he who only can think of the beautiful and the scented flowers which enabled him to transport himself into the world of luxury and courtesies. As he is a seeker of beauty he finds beauty abounds. He gets the scent of ‘white hawthorn’, ‘the pastoral eglantine’ and ‘Fast fading violets’ and that of musk-rose, ‘full of dewy wine’.  

                In such an ecstatic condition Keats wants to pass away slowly and he is in love with easeful death:-
                        “Now more than even seems it rich to die
                        To cease upon the midnight with no pain”.

                It is natural culmination of Keats imaginary world. As he seeks beauty, he seeks the death frantically. He wishes the painless death in order to completely annihilate his consciousness. He knows however that to die would mean the loss of the richness of Nightingale World. The high requiem becomes the plaintive anthem. Read More Romantic Period Here he suddenly remembers what death means, and the thought of it frightens him back to earth and his own humanity.

                Keats however asserts that the song of the bird is immortal one. It is the voice of romance, the voice of history. According to Calvin “the poet contrasts the transitory of human life with the permanence of the song of the bird”. To Rossetti ‘man as a race is deathless; as a superior to the trump of human generation as the Nightingale as a race; while the Nightingale as an individual bird has a life not less blessing than man as individual: It is the permanence of beauty as represented by the song of bird. Here one can not miss Keats’ love of romance and Hellenism. His love for medieval romance has been condensed in the highly suggestive lines –
                “Charm’d magic casement.”

The description of the captive princes who sooth her love laden hearts, Ruth’s consolation of her heart are basically Keatsian luxury of sorrow.

                   Keats in the poem tries repeatedly to use his imagination to go with the bird’s song, but each time he fails to forget himself completely. Keats wants to escape from the world of anxiety by virtue of his imagination but he is fully aware of the fact that –
                “The Fancy can not cheat so well,
                As she is famed to do, deceiving elf”.

                Finally, there is Keats' assertion that the imagined experience is better than the actual, in that it will never end. Read More Romantic Period The nature of experience: its duality and fleeting quality were of great interest to the Romantics and he is no exception.  Thus the sojourn with the poet’s imagination is broken and he has to come back to the world of reality. He speaks of the inadequacy of imaginative power as it is. The spell of withdrawal from reality and consciousness is short-lived. The spell is broken; the poet in awakened to the reality of life.  “The viewless wings of Poesy”, however, relishes us as ever widening aspect of glorious permanence. Keats thus differentiates between life and art: Human beings die, but the art they make lives on. Such of the vision or a dream is indeed bliss of our troubled soul.
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