An Analysis of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

A Grecian Urn, Melancholy, a Nightingale and Indolence. What do all of these subjects have in common? Poet John Keats wrote odes to each in 1819. While each work reveals the beauty of Keats’ poetic capability, “Ode to a Nightingale,” thoroughly explores the poet’s conflicted view of human life. Keats’ style of this particular ode wonderfully applies imagery around the narrative while amplifying the speaker’s thought process to the audience. His ample use of literary techniques such as imagery, metaphor, alliteration, and symbolism exemplify the poet’s arguments. Overall, Keats tries to show how people cope with opposing sensations and emotions: pain and joy, mortal and immortal, and actual and ideal they experience in the same situation.

To begin, Keats explores the different sensations of pain and joy in the first stanza of the poem. As the speaker falls into a reverie listening to the nightingale sing, he states how his “heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains/[his] sense” (1) and feels as if a strong drug has taken over his body and “emptied some dull opiate to the drains” (3). Due to the allusions of misery, the reader might assume the poet intends to portray an upsetting sentiment, yet I believe Keats’ true purpose is to express the paradoxical view of pleasure and pain, for the sorrow suggested earlier “’tis not through envy of thy happy lot, but [from] being too happy” (5-6). Therefore, the intensity of joy can also induce numbness or grief and the reader sees how a person can stimulate the opposite, satisfying Keats’ perception on the interrelation of human life. The poet also uses metaphor to allude to the mixed concept of pain and pleasure as well. When illustrating the nightingale “of beechen green, and shadows numberless” (9), Keats contrasts the youthful and vividness of green with the countless dark gray shadows that cover it. Here, the coexistence of happiness in green and sadness in the shadows exemplifies Keats’ belief that people experience a combination of opposing emotions all at once. Ultimately, Keats opens the poem by introducing the reader to the dual emotions the speaker feels throughout the poem.

Keats continues to explore the interconnection of positions the speaker experiences by discussing his stance on mortality and immortality. Stanza six looks at the mortal aspect of life as the speaker embraces the idea of death. While before he “[has] been half in love with easeful Death/[and] call’d him soft names” (52-3) before, he now articulates his love of death. A joyous and effortless occasion, the speaker imagines his life will “cease upon [midnight] with no pain” (56). The nightingale helps him reach the state of accepting deal since he has been listening to it sing “for many a time” (51). The song moves the poet to accept and understand that he will not live forever, thus revealing the speaker’s comfort of being mortal. Keats then moves his awareness of his own mortality in the preceding stanza to the awareness of the nightingale’s immortality. While the bird will die on a literal level, it will live forever to the speaker for he informs the nightingale that he “wast not born for death, immortal bird” (61). The nightingale and its song symbolize the continuing presence of joy in no only his life, but also the lives of people “in ancient days” (64) who also sought the need to escape a sad existence like “the sad heart of Ruth…/[who] stood in tears amid the alien corn” (66-7) and the difficulty one might face “on the foam/of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” (69-70). Providing past examples of people who could have benefit from the nightingale’s music shows the speaker’s ability to think of both mortality and immortality. Although these individuals passed away, the nightingale lives on, helping anyone who needs assistance in the future. Thus, Keats demonstrates the speaker overcoming the disputed disposition of humans by coming to terms with and understanding his view of mortality and immortality.

The clearest sensation the speaker experiences is the difference between his real and ideal world. The speaker leaves the depressing setting he lives in now as the song of the nightingale carries him to an ideal world. Though it involves the mind-altering influence of alcohol,