Critical appreciation of the “Ode To a Nightingale”

Critical appreciation of the “Ode To a Nightingale”

Introduction to Ode to a Nightingale

The “Ode To A Nightingale” is a very famous ode of John Keats. It was composed by him in the spring of 1819. The situation which inspired Keats to compose this Ode was something like this. Keats was staying at the house of his friend Charles. Arbitrage Brown, at Westworth Place, Hampstead. It was the month of April and there were chirpings of birds all around. One night Keats heard the sweet song of a nightingale. Next morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the grass plot under a plum tree and composed the Ode. It was then published in the July number of the Annals of Fine Arts, a literary magazine.

In the poem, the poet directs his words to the nightingale. In the opening lines he implies that it night, the nightingale is singing its charming song, and he feels so great a joy that there is a continued pain in his heart.

The Theme of the Ode

The main thought of the poem can be put as follows:

The nightingale sings its charming song in its nest hidden behind the leaves of a tree. Its song is so sweet that the bird should be a light-winged wood-nymph singing of summer “in full-throated ease.” The song has excited so great a joy in his heart that there a ache in it now.

The poet lives in a world of miseries, sorrows, diseases, and distress. His own life is full of sorrows and despairs. So he wishes to escape to the nightingale’s world, by means of the wine produced in the southern part of France.

But then he rejects the idea of flying to the nightingale, with the aid of wine. He says that his own poetic imagination can carry him to the bird. Then he imagines that he is already with the nightingale, thanks to his poetic fancy”. The he begins to describe the atmosphere around the nightingale and himself. The moon and the stars are shining in the sky. But at the place where he is sitting with nightingale there is no light except that which enters through the leaves, when wind stirs them. The atmosphere is perfumed with the fragrance of white hawthorn, pastoral eglantine, fast-fading violets, and the buds of the coming musk-rose.

Now in the perfumed night, listening to the soul-stirring song of the nightingale the poet wishes to die with no pain. Then he praises the bird for its charming song. He believes that the song has comforted the sad heart of everyone from the ancient times upto the present day. It might have solaced even the forlorn princesses imprisoned in magic castles. But the word “forlorn” shatters the web of his imagination. He comes back to his “sole self”. And the song is also no more.. He asks himself. “Do I wake of sleep.?”.

Note of Melancholy

There is a strong under-current of melancholy running in the poem. The poet describes the human world as full of:

The weariness, the fever, and the fret.

He wants to escape from the world:

“… where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, las grey hair.

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.” (Stanza 3)

The poet has suffered so much that at times he has been “Half in love with easeful Death” In situations of great pains, he has even praised death so that it may take his breath into the air. And in the moments of the present ecstasy, he even wishes “to cease upon the midnight with no pain.” Then, in the end, he comes back to his “sole-self.”

His Escapism-

The Ode also brings to light Keats’ tendency to escape from reality into romance. He wants to forget his miserable life by drinking grapy wine of Provence, France. Then he escapes to the nightingale through his poetic imagination. But the greatest quality of his escapism is what is called “Negative Capability“. In simple words, when he has escaped from his real life into a world of romance he does not mention a single word of his unhappiness in that state. Another quality of his escapism is that he escapes to a distant world of birds, ancient Greeks, Romans, Ruth of the Bible, and of fairy lands, etc.

His Sensuousness-

The Ode has also a series of sensuous images. They have been represented with suggestive symbols which excite emotions and delineate word-pictures. Consider the following phrases :- “drowsy numbness”, shadows numberless”, the blushful Hippocrene“, “with beaded bubbles”, “the Queen-Moon” “Clustered around by all her starry Fays”, and “the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.” These images appeal to our Senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Its Artistic Beauty-

The words of the poem ripple slowly producing sweet, slow, Sound-music. The diction is lofty or low, as required by the sense. The style is elaborated romantic through and through and highly artistic. The Ode consists of eight regular stanzas. Each stanza is made up of ten line of the second stanza- “And with thee fade away into the…forest dim”, – is the only Alexandrine. The remaining lines of all the eight stanzas are iambic pentameters. The rhyme-scheme of each stanza is: abab – cde, cde, Alliterations are natural and striking. Consider, for example, “the self-same song” and “fairy lands forlorn.”

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