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The Poem ''Ode to a Nightingale'' By John Keats

Updated on May 8, 2019
Shawindi Silva profile image

Shawindi is a student who prefers writing and reading and also likes to learn about the different cultures of countries.

Who is John Keats?

He is one of the younger Romantic poets, called the 'sensuous poet' as he has taken a lot of imagery from the nature as if they are visible. He has experienced physical discomforts due to the fatal disease Tuberculosis. Mentally suffered because he had seen his brother died at the age of 19, suffering with the same disease. He was an educated fellow, so that the verses he had composed are in the formal decorous poetic language. It said that he had written three odes from the age of 25-27. He had a great friend called Charles Hermitage Brown who had supported him and wrote his biography after the death of John Keats. The famous Leigh Hunt, P.B.Shelly and Lord Byron are the admirers of Keats's poetry.

John Keats's Poetry.

John Keats has written three odes and an epic, ''Endymion''. He has also written Lamina, Isabella, The Eve of St.Agnes and other poems in which ode to a Nightingale is included. He is a well known writer in odes and most popular letters are written by him, ''The Most Notable'' and the most important letters ever written by English poets.

What is an Ode ?

An ode is a grand ''full dressed'' poem in its size, content and its formal language and the public purpose. However in English poetry the ode can be discussed in two sections,

1. Public - Composed and sung to a celebrity, a noble or a royal person. In formal recorded language for a public purpose such as in exultation, a funeral, etc.

2. Private - The private ode is composed to reflect one's thoughts of nature and its aspect in the shape of meditation to relieve the aces and pains and the gloominess of mind.

Therefor this poem is a romantic meditation ode from developed by the romantic poets. It is written in 1819 when Keats was ill.

In a way this poem is similar to ''A Sky Lark'' by Shelly.

Keats hears a nightingale as he sits in the garden one evening when it is almost dark and he was quiet ill because of the physical pain and as well as the mental depression. In such a scenario he was sitting on a bench under a beech tree as the first draft of it. Therefor this is a result of a poetic impulse in Keats's mind at one level it is a very personal autobiographical poem. The speaker in the poem and the voice of the poet are not too hear but one in this poem.

Glossary of the Poem.

  1. Hemlock - A poisonous drink made of the plant also called by the same name.
  2. Opiate - A drug containing opium.
  3. Drains - veins.
  4. Lethe - A mythical river whose water made forget their past.
  5. Dryad - A tree fairy.
  6. Melodious - Musical.
  7. Beechen - Pertaining to beech( a type of ever green tree )
  8. Flora - The Roman goddess of spring time and flower.
  9. Provencal - Of the late medieval troubadours of Provence, in southern France.
  10. Mirth - Happiness.
  11. Hippocrene - The fountain of the muses on Mr.Helicon in Greece. It's water were believed to induce poetic inspiration.
  12. Weariness - Tiredness, fatigue.
  13. Bacchus - God of wine in Greek mythology-Bacchus is depicted as travelling in a chariot drown by leopards.
  14. Pards - Leopards.
  15. Wieveless - Invisible.
  16. Fays - Farries.
  17. Verdurous - Full of leaves.
  18. Emblamed - Perfumed.
  19. Eglantime - Wood roses.
  20. Darkling - In darkness.
  21. Estacy - Extreme happiness.

Dramatic Situation of the Poem.

John Keats suffered from Tuberculosis, in fact he died in his early death because of that illness. One evening he sat in his garden and listened to a nightingale sing its melancholy tune. Keats was in severe pain from his Tuberculosis, but the bird's song as it was mesmerized him and elevated him to ecstatic level of existence and made him forget his pain.

Analysis of the Poem.

The poet begins the poem with a reference to the agony he endures from his illness but says how that agony has turned to a drowsy numbness as if he had taken a dose of hemlock, a kind of narcotic made of a poisonous herb or injected into his veins some other pain killer just a minute ago or taken a plunge into the mythical river lathe whose waters the dead forget their past.

Then the poet explains why he has forgotten his pain. He catch up the song of the nightingale singing like a tree fairy(dryad) on the top of a tree. The bird is in its happiness sings ''in full-throated ease'' of the summer.

In the second stanza the poet wishes to get into the world of the nightingale through a draught of wine seasoned for a long time ''in deep delved earth tasting of flora and the country green''. Flora was the Roman Goddess of springtime and flowers. Vegetation becomes green in the spring. There are images associated with mirth. Dance and Provencal songs are also elements associated with joy and mirth. Hippocrane is the fountain of the Muses( the goddess of property and art) on mount Helicon in Greece. The waters of the fountain Hippocrane was believed to introduce poetic inspiration. The poet wishes that he might be able to drink from these sources ''with beaded bubbles winking at the brim and purple stained mouth'' so that under their influence he would be able to ''leave the world unseen'' and fade away with the nightingale into the forest dim.

In simple words that the poet wishes is to enter the world of a nightingale under the influence of some intoxicating drink. We know that intoxicating drinks release man's artistic imagination and facilitate creations of art. The world the world of the nightingale is the world of music, song dance and all the nightingale symbolizes. The poet wishes to enter the world of nightingale because in that world he forgets all his pain as the song of the nightingale has helped him to forget his pain from Tuberculosis.

We will understand the poets situation well if we think of a moment of our own participation in a work of art like watching a film, viewing a tele-drama or even listening to a song. For the moment we forget our worries and pain and even our own self. This is the power of art to capture man's attention and elevate him to estacy.

The third stanza continues in the same vein when the poet says he wishes to ''fade away, dissolve and quiet forget'' what the bird has not known among the leaves is human pain, the lot of the human consciousness. That is ''wearness, the fever, the fret'' and whole host of other woes, ''here, where men sit and hear each other groan''.

If we put all of them into the basket, we call them human miseries. They are the man's lot. Man suffers from them because of his conscious intellect, in fact that conscious intellect distinguishes man from other animals. In other words man is man because he endowed with the gift of his conscious intellect. The poet wants to escape that conscious intellect.

Form and Language of the Poem.

There are eight verses that have ten lines each stanza with the same rhyming scheme of 'a b a b c d c d e c d e'. The poem is discussed and composed in formal decorous poetic language associated with the ode. The poet's language is extremely compressed and varied. Although the critics claim a similarity between Wordsworth's and Keats's poetry, Keats did not attempt to write in the language of rustic men like Wordsworth and there is no simplicity of expression. He had occupied a poetic device that he has introduced as synaesthesia- a poetic device in which a production of sins impression relating to sense of the part of the body by stimulating another sense or part of the body.

The Basic Structure of Keats's Odes.

  1. It raises poet's attempt to escape to an ideal world usually offered by some elements of nature in order to escape the unhappiness of the real world.
  2. Then he realizes that the ideal world does not give him what he is looking for forcing him to comeback to the real world.
  3. After the return he gets positively changed by the experience as he has gained a better understanding of his own world
  4. The feeling expressed at the beginning of this poem is quiet different from those at the end of the poem hens we understand that the process and basic structure consists of escapade to ideal world among realization and the positive change.


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    • Shawindi Silva profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawindi Silva 

      3 months ago from Sri lanka

      Thank you so much John Hansen

      Keats is one of my favorite poets and I'm still learning about him and his poems in school.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing analysis of this poem as well as a little about Keats’ life. He was one of the poets we studied at school. Good work, Shawindi.

    • Shawindi Silva profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawindi Silva 

      4 months ago from Sri lanka

      Thank you Devika !!!!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A unique write of this poem.

    • Shawindi Silva profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawindi Silva 

      7 months ago from Sri lanka

      Thank you - Nell !!!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 months ago from England

      I love the glossary! And of course the rest of the hub. I always have to look words etc up, so great stuff!

    • Shawindi Silva profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawindi Silva 

      8 months ago from Sri lanka

      Thank you so much !!!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      9 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      A fine explanation of this Keat's poem.

    • Shawindi Silva profile imageAUTHOR

      Shawindi Silva 

      9 months ago from Sri lanka

      Thank you so much - Dr Pran Rangan !!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      9 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for sharing a nice hub.

      I have studied Keats in my school. You have reminded me how great he was as a poet. You hub is a tribute to him.


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