‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats [Poem Review]

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There are a couple of different types of Odes but in this case we’re dealing with a Horatian Ode. This type of ode was originally written to accompany music so there is a clear beat to the lines and a feeling of moving towards an idea before pulling back from it–this mimics the movements of the dancers.

It’s clear from the very first line that this isn’t going to be a happy poem full of rainbows and sunshine as it starts by giving an image of the depth of the narrator’s pain.

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Lines 1-2

There is a juxtaposition between being both in pain and numb, but the pain is from being moved by the beautiful song of the happy Nightingale.

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness–

Lines 5-6

It’s that classic image of a poet lamenting because something is so beautiful is physically hurts to be near it. I think it’s a little melodramatic but that’s to be expected in nature poetry.

They are unable to see the Nightingale but they are able to hear it. Nightingales usually sing at night–alone and unseen in the dark–and poets seem to feel akin to them because of the separation of both the bird and the poet from others of its kind.

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim;

Lines 19-20

There is an allusion to drinking wine in the second stanza as a way for them to forget the world. That’s really what this poem is about: leaving the despairing world behind and immersing one’s self in beauty of nature. In fact, most nature poetry is about this (with the exception of The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy).

There is a lot of really pretty lines in this poem but it is, in my opinion, a bit of a downer. Not that I need everything in my life to be up-beat but this was a little too bleak for me in some parts.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

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