Ode To a Nightingale
Summary of “Ode to a Nightingale”
Ode To a Nightingale is a pretty ode of John Keats. It was written by Keats in the spring of 1819. At the time he was staying with his friend Charles A, Brown at Wentworth Place. Hampstead. The poem is the result of the impression of a nightingale’s song heard by him in compound of Brown’s house. A nightingale had made its nest near Brown’s house. Keats heard it sing sadly at night. Next morning Keats “took his chair from the breakfast table,” writes his friend Brown, “to the grass plot under a plum, where he sat for two or three hours.” When he came into the house, he had some scraps of paper in his hands. And it was this Ode which was written on those scraps of paper.
The Ode was first published in the Annals Of The Fine Arts. in July, 1819. It is said that Keats felt great joy whenever he remembered the nightingale’s song. In the present Ode, he celebrates that very song of the nightingale. The Ode consists of eight stanzas. Each stanza consists of ten lines.
In the first stanza, Keats directs his words to the nightingale. He says that its sweet song has given him so great joy that there is a pain in his heart. He also feels a sort of sleepiness as if he had taken a dose of hemlock or opiate. The pain in his heart is not due to envy of its happy lot. As a matter of fact, it is due to the happy effect of its song.
In the second stanza, the poet wishes to be as happy as the nightingale. He keenly feels that the bird is much too happy while he himself is much too sad. He wishes to attain to the bird’s joy by drinking the strong wine of grapes produced in the southern part of France. And he wants to drink a breakerful of that wine to forget his present life of sorrows and get lost in the sweetness of the nightingale’s song,
In the third stanza, he defines those things which make man’s life a hell, and which he wants to forget by drinking a breakerful of wine. Those things are the weariness, the fever, and the fret of life, tragic situations, fatal diseases which cause the death of youths, misery and short life of beauty and love.
In the fourth stanza, he gives up the idea of forgetting the world through drinking wine. But he adds that he will leave the world by flying on the wings of poetic imagination, up to the nightingale. Then he imagines that he is sitting beside the nightingale in the tree. The moon and the stars shining in the sky. But the place, where he is sitting with the nightingale is dark. Yet when the gentle wind blows, leaves of the tree flutter and some beams of the moon enter and light up the spot.
In the fifth stanza, he says that he does not see the flowers which hang on the boughts of that tree or which are under the tree. But from the fragrance of different flowers present in the atmosphere, he can tell that there are white hawthorns, pastoral eglantines, violets covered up in leaves, and musk roses. He also hears the murmuring sound of bees.
In the sixth stanza, he says that he is in a state of great peace and pleasure. He further says that at many occasions he has wished to die peacefully. He has even praised death in poetic lines so that it may take his life in moments of peace. He adds that he wishes to die in the present state of great peace and pleasure.
In the seventh stanza, he calls the nightingale an immortal bird as a singer of melodious songs. The same song of the bird has been heard by people of all sorts, from the early times upto the present day. It was heard by emperors clowns, Ruth of the Bible, and the princesses imprisoned in enchanted castles “in fairy lands forlorn.”
The eighth stanza, begins with the word ‘forlorn’ which closes the seventh stanza. The poet says that the word reminds him of his actual life and being, and brings him back to his “self”. So he bids good bye to the nightingale because imagination cannot keep a man from his real situation for a long time. Instantly he hears the bird’s song going away from him. Then he hears it no more. He asks himself whether he is asleep or awake, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?”
English Literature— Important links
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- Explanations of Absalom and Achitophel (Line by line analysis)
- Critical appreciation of “The False Achitophel” by John Dryden
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- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
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