My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
These are the opening lines of Keats’s famous Ode to a Nightingale. Keats feels fascinated by the song of a nightingale that he hears in a grove near the cottage of his friend Brown. On hearing the bird’s song. Keats’s heart experiences a sensation of pain. But this is the pain caused by the excess of joy. The melody of the nightingale’s song is so sweet that it has intoxicated the very senses of the poet. His senses are drenched in a sort of numbness with the result that he is in a state of almost complete insensibility. He feels as if he had drunk to his full some preparation of opium or juice of hemlock. His senses have become lethargic and inactive to the extent that he has forgotten everything. He seems to have drunk the water of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in the classical underworld.
The music of the nightingale’s song exercises the hypnotic influence of a drug as a result of which the poet loses consciousness of his surroundings. Naturally, Keats’s worldly experiences are painful and as soon as he hears the pleasing music of the nightingale, he forgets these experiences. Very naturally he refers to some narcotics like opium and hemlock and even the river Lethe.
On hearing the nightingale’s song. Keats’s heart experiences a sensation of pain. But this is the pain caused by the excess of joy. The melody of the song is so sweet that it has intoxicated the very senses of the poet. He feels as if he had drunk a dose of opium or juice of hemlock. He even seems to have drunk the water of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in the classical underworld.
Keats makes it clear that the mood of languor and forgetfulness has not been brought upon him by any feeling of jealousy of the nightingale’s joy. He is not envious of its happiness. But he is excessively happy because of the bird’s happy lot. In such a mood, Keats imagines the world of the nightingale, where it is singing the melodious song. Like a Dryad, a wood-nymph, the bird is singing in a piece of grassy land where green beech-trees are growing. This beechen plot is resounded with the sweet melody of the nightingale’s song. The song is full of assertion, promise and cheerful expectancy of the summer season. The nightingale is singing effortlessly and spontaneously in a loud voice.
Here Keats’s art of word-painting is praiseworthy. The ‘sylvan’ world of the nightingale is portrayed with the help of such expressions as ‘melodious plot. ‘beechen green’ and ‘shadows numberless’. ‘Melodious plot’ is a very felicitous and bold expression indicating the dark foliage of the tree, which hides the nightingale and resounds with its music. In this expression there is the use of Transferred Epithet also, as it is not the ‘plot’ which is melodious, but the nightingale. The ‘full-throated ease of the nightingale represents “the restfulness and absence of strain which ever accompany the perfection of art” (Downer). Thus Keats has indicated the basic quality of good art.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
The song of the nightingale is so sweet that it has intoxicated the senses of the poet. He feels as if he had drunk some opium or the water of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. He is too happy in the bird’s happiness. In the world of beechen green, the nightingale is singing of summer in full-throated ease, the poet longs to migrate to this blissful world of the nightingale.
In these lines, Keats expresses a very strong desire to drink a wine that has been stored and cooled for a long time under the earth. The aid of wine is sought so as to escape with the nightingale from this world of fever and fret to the world of ideal beauty. Keats thinks of a wine that will recall to his mind the choicest flowers that have been countryside and also of the dancing, music, merry-making, feasting of the sunburnt peasants of Provence which is famous for its jollity, fun and wines.
Keats refers to the regions of southern France or northern Italy which are wine-producing provinces. Provencial song refers to the songs of the troubadours or minstrels of Provence, the southern portion of France along the Mediterranean. The sun being quite strong in southern France or northern Italy, the grapes-gatherers are sunburnt. According to Robertson, “The people are not mentioned at all, yet this phrase (‘Sun-burnt mirth’) conjures up a picture of marry, laughing sun-burnt peasants, as surely as could a long description.” The reference to the wine also shows Keats’s sensuousness. The delicious vintage, the carefree pleasures of the troubadours are the sources of the sensuous gratification of the past.
Keats craves for a dose of the invigorating wine of southern Europe. He would like to drink pure and red-coloured wine which flows from Hippocrene, a fountain, sacred to the Muses. Keats would be highly delighted to drink from a goblet the sparkling wine that will redden his mouth and lips when he drinks it. Under the intoxication of such wine, the poet longs to escape from this miserable world to the thickly shaded grove of beech trees where the nightingale is singing.
The lines with beaded hubbles………… the brim’ suggest the picture of a beautiful dancing girl, blushing and winking at her lover. The wine has been described as red as the blushes of a maiden and the bubbles rising and breaking at the brim of the beaker remind the poet of the opening and closing of her eyes. The edges of the cup are also red, denoting the red lips of the maiden. Hippocrene refers to a fountain, sacred to the Muses on Mt. Helicon. Pegasus in Greek mythology is said to be a winged horse which sprang from the blood of Medusa when Perseus cut off her head and the fountain Hippocrene was said to have been produced by the stamp of the hoof of Pegasus, the symbol of poetic inspiration. The wine flowing from the fountain Hippocrene is therefore symbolic of poetic inspiration.
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Keats wants to escape from this miserable world to the world of the nightingale which knows no pains and miseries of this world. Keats describes the experiences which the nightingale has known. Human beings have to experience unending fatigue, the depressing and tiresome conditions of life and the feverish struggle and cares of the world. On account of these people here are constantly suffering under the agonies of pain. At every stage of life human beings are afflicted with pain. The old and grey-haired men are afflicted with such diseases as palsy. The young men wither and grow ghost-like pale and ultimately die pre-mature death. Every thought of life fills a man with sorrow and grief. In his share there is always disappointment as reflected in his down-cast eyes. Finally, Keats sums up the poor state of life where beauty is transient and so is love engendered by it. In this life the lustre of the eyes of a beautiful woman soon fades away, and the love for such beauty also does not last long.
In these lines, the miseries of life are generalized, but, as Downer remarks, “the mood enshrined in the poetic strains is illuminated by the actual sorrows of the poet himself”. The whole stanza depicts the supreme misery of mankind. Keats wrote this Ode soon after the death of his brother Tom, whom he had loved devotedly and nursed to the end. Therefore, the dejection of the poet as expressed in these lines is very natural. About the last two lines Downer has remarked. “The last two lines are perfect. ‘Lustrous eyes’ is full of beauty; so is the music of the whole; and the solitary instance of a feminine ending (sorrow and morrow) in the poem lend itself well to the pathos of the stanza”.
Keats contrasts the idea of the last two lines by referring to the permanence of Love and Beauty in art, in Ode on a Grecian Urn; “For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair”.
Also Read :
- Compare Hamlet with Macbeth, Othello and other Tragedies
- “The Pardoner’s Tale” is the finest tale of Chaucer
- Prologue to Canterbury Tales – (Short Ques & Ans)
- Confessional Poetry – Definition & meaning
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
These lines are the sixteenth stanza of the poem “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. In this stanza, the speaker expresses a desire to escape mundane concerns and reach a higher state of inspiration and creativity. The speaker imagines flying to the skylark using the intangible wings of poetry, as opposed to being carried by Bacchus (the god of wine) and his leopards. The use of the term “viewless wings of Poesy” underscores the idea that poetry has the power to transcend physical limitations and transport the speaker to a realm of imagination and inspiration. The stanza also acknowledges the challenges of human thinking (“dull brain perplexes and retards”) in contrast to the skylark’s effortless flight of song. These lines reflect the speaker’s longing to connect with the skylark’s sublime beauty and the transformative power of artistic expression.
Keats wants to fly to the world of the nightingale. He will go to this blissful world not with the help of wine, but on the invisible wings of imagination, even though his reason would obstruct his flight by its insistence upon realities of life.
The poet’s imagination is so swift that with the thought of it, he finds himself transported to the beautiful world of the nightingale. He cannot resist the temptation of describing the beauty of this world. Here the moon, which is like the queen of the sky, is sitting on her throne surrounded by the fairies, i.e.. the stars. Though the moon is bright, there is no light except that which is brought from above when the breezes move the leaves and branches of the trees. The dense foliage is stirred by the breeze and moonlight streams through the openings of the foliage. The gloom is due to the density of the green foliage in spring time and that is occasionally dissipated by the sudden penetration of lights ‘blown in”.
The scene described by Keats is imagined, as we know, the Ode was composed in the morning. However, the scene reveals Keats’s pictorial powers: with the help of his imagination he paints a beautiful picture of nature.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
On the viewless wings of imagination Keats migrants to the world of the nightingale. There is gloom, due to the density of the green foliage. But now and then light is brought from above when the breezes move the leaves and branches of the trees.
The darkness of the forest obstructs the visual enjoyment of the poet. He is not able to see what trees and flowers are growing around him, nor is he able to notice what sweet-smelling blossoms are growing on the branches of the trees. But the darkness is sweetened by these flowers, as the whole atmosphere is pervaded by the sweet fragrance of flowers. Though the poet is not able to see the flowers, he can certainly recognize each of them by their fragrance. He can guess the grass, the bushes and the various flowers which the flowery month of May has produced. The poet can also guess the sweet blossom growing on the wild fruit-trees in the forest. He can guess by the smell that white-hawthorn, eglantine, violets which fade too quickly, as well as the musk-rose, the first flower to blossom in the middle of May are all growing here. The sweet juice of the musk-rose will attract the multitude of the humming bees. In other words the musk-roses will be the favourite haunt for the buzzing bees. The poet can enjoy all these aspects of Nature with the help of his sense perception.
Here is a rich feast for the senses. Keats is a sensuous poet. Hence while describing Nature, he refers to the various flowers, etc. which appeal to the senses of sight, smell and touch. In the last line the music of the long vowels is noteworthy. It is a perfect example of Onomatopoeia, a line the sound of which echoes the sense. The repetition of s’ imitates the sibilant hum of the flies which pleases the ears.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.
Keats has an ecstatic experience when he hears the song of the nightingale. In the darkness when he hears the song, he feels that it is the most blessed moment of his sorrow-ridden life.
The poet is so much filled with ecstatic delight by the song of the nightingale that he thinks it to be the most appropriate moment to die. Keats says he has an instinctive attraction for death, because death would end all his troubles. Death would soothe him. Therefore, often in his thoughts he called upon death and appealed to it to put a stop to his life. Now at this moment he is in his happiest mood: therefore, this is the best time for him to embrace death. He would like to die a painless death at this hour of midnight when the nightingale is pouring its rapturous song in profuse strains. The nightingale would continue to sing even when the poet is dead and he would no longer be able to hear it song. He would be deaf to the noble and mournful song when he turns into a piece of earth after death.
There is a latent sense of sorrow in these lines. The poet is happy when he hears the sweet song of the nightingale. But he is at the same time conscious of his miseries in the world. Therefore, he wants to embrace death to end his misfortunes. Downer calls Keats’s feelings as “sensuous in the highest degree and at the same time sentimental and reflective”.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Keats feels that he should die at the moment when he is listening to the sweet song of the nightingale, for that is the happiest moment and therefore, most appropriate to death. While he is thus thinking of death for himself. he becomes conscious of the immortality of the bird.
Keats considers the nightingale as immortal. According to him it is oot destined to die. It is not subject to ruthless struggle for existence as the generations of human beings are. The human beings are ever hungry for one another’s blood, but the nightingale is free from this human vice. Its song has been a source of joy to human beings. The song which the nightingale is singing this passing night is the same which must have been heard and enjoyed by the rich and the poor alike centuries ago. The identical song must have gratified the ears of a Caesar or a Charlemagne, the husbandman or the peasant of the countryside. According to Keats the bird- song is immortal.
The immortality of the nightingale leads the poet back to the Biblical past and the past of legendary romance. First he takes an example from the Bible. The song which the poet is listening to this night was also heard by Ruth who stood weeping in a corn-field away from her native land. Here Ruth worked in the fields of her husband’s relative. But her heart was depressed and home-sick. In such moments the song of the nightingale gave consolation to Ruth. Keats means to say that the melodious voice of the nightingale is the same as it was when Ruth heard it. Then Keats takes up a romantic illusion to illustrate his idea. According to him, the voice in which the nightingale is singing at this time is the same as well with a delightful or bewitching effect upon the windows of a castle that stood on the seashore. Keats here wants his readers to imagine a fairy castle, strange and enchanted, situated in some desolate or lonely land. This is perhaps a castle in which some beautiful maiden or princess is imprisoned. The windows of the castle open towards the strong ocean with foamy waves striking against one another. The maiden, standing at the window with a sad heart, listens to the song of the nightingale and feels relieved in her distress.
Thus the song of the nightingale is immortal. It was heard long ago by Ruth and also by some captive maiden in some enchanted land. These lines are the finest lines in the whole poetry of Keats. According to Downer, “we read the words and seem to behold in high romance, the shadowy enchanter’s castle in a kingdom by the sea, the lonely tower of which encloses an imprisoned princess, held in duress; and when the rich full note of the nightingale catches upon her captive ear, she opens her window to listen and to look out over the wild waves for the ship that shall bring the knight of her deliverance”.
The last two lines represent the high water-mark of pure romanticism. The touch of the supernatural, the mystery, and above all the suggestiveness of these lines have made them a test by which purely romantic poetry can be judged and measured.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
These lines are from the poem “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. This specific section is not a stanza on its own, but rather a part of the poem that follows the lines you’ve previously provided. In these lines, the speaker reflects on the word “forlorn” and its impact on their emotions. The speaker describes the word as being akin to a bell, which serves as a tolling reminder, pulling them away from the connection they felt with the skylark and back to their own isolated state. This reflects the contrast between the skylark’s uplifting presence and the speaker’s own feelings of isolation and loneliness. It further emphasizes the transformative effect the skylark’s presence has on the speaker’s emotions and thoughts.
Towards the end of the Ode to a Nightingale Keats again begins to feel lonely. The word ‘forlorn’ of the previous stanza sounds like a bell of caution that the poetic dream cannot last forever and that the poet should once again back to the stern realities of life.
Keats bids farewell to the nightingale’s song as his day-dream is broken. He has escaped from this world of realities to the imaginative world of the nightingale, but, as it were, imagination cannot help for long. A person after all has to face the realities of life. Imagination can make us forget ourselves only for a short while. It can deceive us like a fairy, but it cannot transform our lot. Therefore, the poet again bids farewell to the nightingale whose tender and passionate song is gradually fading into the fields nearby. Then the bird flies away still farther over the quiet stream, upon the hill-side and finally is lost into next valley. Thus the voice of the nightingale grows finally inaudible and the dream of the poet is broken. The poet wakes from the dream and wonders whether it was actually a song that he was hearing or a mere vision. The music of the song is now no more, and the poet returns to the life of realities. But still he is not able to decide whether he is waking or sleeping.
The last lines are full of pathos. The poet’s illusion is broken. He had desired to forget’ the weariness, the fever and the fret’ of the world by sharing the joys of the immortal bird’. But imagination can give only temporary relief. It cannot beguile him forever. Thus finally the poet has to come back to his daily consciousness.