About the poet-
John Keats was an English poet of the second generation of Romantic poets. his poems had been in publication for less than four years when he died of tubercolosis at the age of 25. They were indifferently received in his lifetime, but his fame grew rapidly after his death. By the end of the century he was placed in the canon of English literature. Typically of the Romantics, he accentuated extreme emotion through natural imagery. Today his poems and letters remain among the most popular and analysed in English literature – in particular “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Sleep and Poetry” and the sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”.
In this poem, the speaker or the poet talks about his gloomy state of mind that has burdened his existence. The tone of this poem is very depressing. He mentions a nightingale, who is singing happily without any sorrow in its mind. Here the poet provides a contrast of his own life to the life of the nightingale. The bird is free of any dejection, whereas the poet’s life is filled with nothing but despair and gloom.
In the first stanza, the poet says that his heart is aching and he is in a state of drowsy numbness. He feels as if he had drunk hemlock to relieve his stress. Here, he directly references to the nightingale who is singing in a melodious tune. Keats says that the cause of his sadness is not envy for the bird. In fact, seeing the bird too happy makes the poet too happy. He compares the nightingale to Dryad, a tree nymph, who lives in the woods.
In the second stanza, the poet continues to long for intoxication. He asks for a drop of alcohol that has been stored deep underneath the earth for years. The voice of the nightingale makes the poet long for a beaker full of wine from South France, which would remind him of the merry festivities and cultures of the South. Here, the poet compares the wine to the water of Hippocrene. Hippocrene is a spring that was created by Pegasus by stamping his hoof into the ground. The poet hopes that drinking its water would bring him some poetic inspiration. The drink that the poet wants to have must contain bubbles like the water of Hippocrene, and the cup must be stained with the rich color of the wine. He also mentions that he wishes to escape this world by being intoxicated and vanish into the dark woods.
In the third stanza, the poet once again talks about his desire to disappear into the unknown. He wants to dissolve into the world of the nightingale as he is suffocated in the presence of humans here. He is very aware of the painful human life, that is accompanied by weariness, fever, fret, old age, and ultimately death. But the bird’s life knows no such sufferings, it is free in the woods. While describing the human sufferings, the poet talks about palsy, that occurs during old age, and develop grey hairs. Young men grow pale and die soon. Hence, everything in this human world is linked to sufferings. Beauty isn’t eternal. Love loses its warmth. Even newly born love isn’t permanent in this world.
In the fourth stanza, Keats tells the nightingale to fly away, and that he shall follow him. But he won’t be traveling in the chariot of Bacchus. Bacchus is the Roman God of wine. Here, Bacchus is a reference to wine. Keats says that he won’t be traveling into the world of the nightingale under the influence of wine. Instead, he wants to go there with the imaginary wings of poetry. The poet now feels as if he has become dull, as he couldn’t produce creative content anymore. Next, the scene shifts to the night sky, where the Queen Moon is sitting on her throne, surrounding by faeries, i.e. stars. But where, the nightingale flies, there is no natural light. Only heavenly light enters here, with breezes blowing through gloomy ways.
In the fifth stanza, it is still night time. The poet cannot see what flowers are falling on his feet. he can smell the scent of these flowers, but cannot see them. But he can guess the flowers from their smell. He names a few flowers like White Hawthorn, pastoral eglantine, violets and musk rose that might be growing around him. The musk-rose is cup like, which is filled with dew, compared to wine. Swarms of bees are flying over these flowers on summer evenings. It is an irony here. Flowers commonly bloom in the season of spring, but the poet has lost the track of the seasons, as he has now entered the imaginary world of the nightingale.
In the sixth stanza, the poet is listening to the nightingale in the darkness. He is in love with easy and comfortable death. Now that he is standing in the dark forest, he feels that his death is near. He has even invited death in beautiful words in his creations. He has asked Death to quietly take him away into the air, i.e. to kill him. He refers to death as a wealth. It feels that is the best time to die, while listening to the melodious tune of the happy, care-free nightingale. There wouldn’t be another time more suitable for death than now. After the death of the poet, the nightingale will continue singing, as it doesn’t care about the worldly affairs. However, the lifeless poet’s ears cannot hear its sound anymore.
In the seventh stanza the poet says that the nightingale is not born to die. It doesn’t mean that the individual bird is immortal, but rather the entire species will exist forever. Whereas, man is mortal. They try to crush down what is beautiful. But they couldn’t obstruct the voice of this bird. Its beautiful voice has been existing since ages and will continue to do so. The poet is not the first person to hear its voice. The same voice has been heard by emperors and clowns in the ancient past. Next, the poet makes a reference to the story of Ruth from The Old Testaments. Ruth was a widow who lived with her mother-in-law. She collected corns from the fields of Boaz, whom she married later. The poet imagines that while she worked in the fields, and her heart longed for home, she heard the sound of the nightingale. The same song that the poet heard, must also be heard by the lady while she stood in the window of a castle facing towards the perilous sea. The story belongs to a forlorn fairyland
In the eighth and last stanza, the word ‘forlorn’ reminds the poet of his sadness and miseries. He comes back to reality here. The word makes him realize of his actual state in this real world. Hence, the poet bids adieu to the nightingale. He realizes that the fancy or the imagination cannot keep him in an illusion fro long. Fancy, a mischievous fairy has kept the poet out of the reality and transferred him into a world of utter happiness. But now he realizes, that he can only transfer to such a world for a brief span of time. Hence, now he bids the nightingale goodbye. The bird flies away with its voice fading. This makes the poet depressed again. The bird flies past the meadows, over the stream the hillside and away from the poet. In the concluding lines of the poem, the poet is confused. He has completely travelled back to reality and now questions if it was all a dream or a vision. He asks himself if the voice of the nightingale was real or if he was simply dreaming it. With this confusion, the poem comes to an end.
The metrical structure of this poem is iambic pentameter. Its rhyme scheme is ABAB CDECDE. This poem is an Ode. An Ode is a poem that is written as a praisal or glorification of an individual or an event.