Keats Ode to a Nightingale Questions and Answers
1 .Estimate ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ as a representative Keatsian poem.
Examine ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ as a characteristic romantic poem by Keats.
Keats is, no doubt, the youngest of the great romanticists of the first half of the 19th century. Yet, in his creative art, he is in no way inferior to his illustrious predecessors. In fact, as a romantic poet, he occupies alomst the same height with Wordsworth and Shelley.
Romanticism implies a number of elements such as love for Nature, subjectivity, fondness for beauty, imaginative richness and the melancholy strain. Keats’ poetry bears out these distinct marks of romantic art in some way or other.
Ode to a Nightingale is a characteristic Keatsian work and reveals much of romanticism in English poetry. The central argument here is the celebration of the immortal appeal of a thing of beauty, like the song of the nightingale.
The most strikingly romantic note of the poem is found in this theme of beauty. Keats is a poet of beauty and his poetry echoes his idealisation of beauty as a joy for ever—”a thing of beauty is a joy for ever”.
This is the genesis of Keats’ philosophy of beauty. The song of a nightingale is a thing of beauty and so the poet holds that the joy given by it is immortal. He asserts with a firm conviction—’Thou wast not born for death immortal Bird’.
Love for Nature is a cardinal feature in romantic poetry. In Keatsian poetry, this love is clear enough although it is different from what is found in Wordsworth or Shelley. Keats does not give Nature a moral force but simply presents the natural world passionately with a sensuous love for its varied forms and colours. His pictures of Nature are detailed and minute, full of charms and attractions. The descriptions of the woodland of the nightingale and the lovely sky indicate well the poet’s sensuous appreciation of Nature.
Subjectivity is another key element in romantic poetry. A romantic poet gives out much of himself in his poetry. Subjectivity is a strong element in Keats, Shelley and Byron in particular. Ode to a Nightingale, a typical Keatsian poem, sufficiently exhibits this subjectivity. The poem reveals much of the poet, his profound yearning and romantic agony. He states here much of his own life and mind. His painful, lonely existence, his brother’s death, his own frustration in literary endeavour, his ill-fated – love for Fanny are all expressed in this ode. Moreover, the poem also reveals his kinship with beauty, his disgust at his present life and his romantic craving for death,
“And for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death.”
The romantic note of Keatsian poetry is found expressed in the high degree of imagination that is displayed in the poet’s power to invest an ordinary bird with a sublime harmony and a magic beauty that shows his imaginatii e richness. Ode to a Nightingale is truly rich in Keats’s imaginative excellence. The poet draws images, at once fascinating and colourful, although these images are basically sensuous. The poet’s descriptions of the bird’s woodland, the starry sky, his picture of the beaker of wine and his reflection on the effects of the bird’s song, all testify to his rare imaginative gift.
Romantic poetry is often found haunted with a strain of melancholy. A romantic soul feels much awkward and disconsolate in the real world and this makes his music sad. This is what determines the melancholy strand of Ode to a Nithtigale which is marked with the poet’s profound sense of regret and melancholy. His plaintive reflection on the transitoriness of human power and attainments demonstrates the melancholic aspect of the poet. The conclusion of the poem is rather in a tone of sadness and frustration. The poet is left to look before and after and to pine for the immortal beauty that the mortal man can ever cherish but can never fully relish
‘Was it a vision, or a waking dream?’
Keats is one of the most musical romantic poets in English and Ode to a Nightingale is particularly musical. The music of Ode to a Nightingale has profundity as well as beauty. This is made particularly diverting and pleasing by Keats’s poetical expressions, some of which are well devised and quite original. In this connection the compound words like ‘Lethe-wards’, ‘full-throated case’, ‘purple-stained’, ‘leaden-eyed and so on are worth-mentioning.
2 . Discuss with adequate reference, Keats’s treatment of the theme of ‘Ode to a Nightingale.
Keats’s theme in Ode to a Nightingale is nothing simple. This is composite enough. The glorification of beauty as an eternal joy and the lamentation for the fleeting joy in the circumscribed human existence go together here. Joy and sorrow, beauty and death, permanance and transcience, exist together and form the rare theme of the poem.
Indeed, the variety of moods and fancies are knit together wonderfully and united into a whole. The poem is great not only as a whole, but in its parts as well. Each stanza contains the pictures of an indefinable beauty, magic and mystery. The picture of the nightingale singing with a full-throated ease in some melodious plot of beechen green is followed by the scene of Flora and the country green and sunburnt mirth and this culminates in the scene of the men who sit and hear each other groan. The pathos of human li a, of verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways where light is blown with breezes, of the embalmed darkness, heavy with the perfume of a multitude of flowers and of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn form a wonderful series of scenes. They are wonderous sights, living and colourful and suggestive.
In the opinion of many, this poem represents the high water-mark of Keats’s poetry. Here the poet has sounded the elemental note of world weariness and pessimism. This is what all men must have felt in certain circumstances. And he has sounded this note with a completeness, a rounded perfection, that would be hard to match. But he does not confine his mind merely to the single note. He swings it backwards and forwards with a magic ease, now to the region of sunshine and joy, at the next moment to the atmosphere of the tragic futility of human destiny. At one time he opens up a vista of beauty or a fairy romance or region of luxurious sensations, at another he flings upon the real world. This perpetual oscillation, this swift transition of moods, creates a tension in the reader’s mind which may be called the thrills of unexpectedness.
The theme of the poem is nothing exceptional, but the poet’s treatment definitely is the Transition of the Poet’s Mood.
3 . Discuss critically the transition of the poet’s mood in ‘Ode to a Nightingale.
Ode to a Nightingale is a poem of romance. But it carries with it a note of sad reflection-a tone of bitter meditation—that seizes upon the man of the world, fatigued with the ‘fretful stir unprofitable and the fever of the world. The poem records the aching joy and the ‘leaden-eyed despair, the lyrical passion and the bitter pain of the poet’s mind. There is a transition in the poet’s mood from dreamy ease and idle fancy to poignant despondency and pensive contemplation, as he realizes the transitoriness of human pleasure and the mortality of man’s desire.
Keats starts his poem with a contrast between the ecstatic joy, the ever appealing music and the apparent immortality of the song of the nightingale and the sorrow, change and fatality in human life. The contrast leads him to realise that the world of man is one of fevered thoughts and bitter frustration, whereas the realm of the nightingale is one of romance, loveliness and eternal beauty. The poet wants to escape from the chaotic and dreadful world, to leave the world unseen and, with the nightingale, to fade away into the forest dim :
“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 here each other groan;”
From the woe and weariness of the maddening world of man, Keats longs to attain peace and bliss, given by the sweet and joyous melody of the nightingale. To Keats the song of the nightingale is a thing of beauty-the beaut, that has no end. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Keats breathes the very breath of beauty in the song of the bird. Since beauty can never die, the joy given by it is eternal. Keats’s nightingale remains immortal amid the mournings and moanings of this mortal world as a thing too beautiful to die, too joyous to fade.
Keats’s thought, of course, lacks logic here. The nightingale is not immortal. It is subjected to death and decay. But Keats is speaking not of an individual bird, which lives and dies, like a human being. His subject is the song of the bird—the joy that the song gives. A particular bird dies. But the song, as the representative of the whole species, never ceases to please men and women. It continues and is cherished with joy and wonder by all-the new and the old, the rich and the poor. Changes and chances do not come over the song of the bird. The survival of the fittest is the very condition of man’s existence. Among men each generation, in its struggle for existence, tramples down its predecessors. But the case, thinks Keats, is not so with the song of the nightingale. It remains a joy for men and women of all ages, nations and classes. And the poet eulogises the immortality of the bird’s song :
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 :
But the world of men is so ugly and so sickly that even the conception of beauty cannot last long here. The spell of beauty is soon broken in the heat of the sordid reality of the poet’s life. The despondency of the poet is too severe to allow him to live for ever in the realm of fancy, imagination and beauty. The poet fails to escape as easily as he has hoped. The loveliness of the bird’s song cannot triumph long in man’s mind, lost in earthly sorrows and sufferings. The song of the nightingale fades away in the forest dim, leaving the poet amid the din and bustle of a dying race. The worshipper of beauty is brought back to the filth and frailty of the real life. The feeling of the ecstatic delight is over. And what remains is the over-intense craving for the joy that is no more. A tone of sadness pervades the poet’s mind. In a state of utter confusion and depression, he pines for what he has lost. a waking dream ?
“Was it a vision, or
Fled is that music :-D0 I wake or sleep?”
4. Discuss Keats’s explanation of the power of imagination in his attempt to transcend reality and even romanticize the pain of death.
Keats’s poctical excellence is sound manifest (epimo) in a number of distinct marks. One imporatnt mark in this respect is his imaginative propensity (275901). He is not merely poet of a beauty but of imagination, – strong, powerful, expansive freu) imagination.
The richness of Keats’s imagination is immensely eprersed in his celebrated Ode to a Nightingale. The very origin of the poem, as far as stated and known, is a grand testimony to Keats’s imaginative wonder. While living in a friend’s house, close to a small wood, the poet often flesed to listen delightfully the song of the bird. One morning, the poet went to a grass plot in that woodland. When he returned home, before his lunch, he had in his hand the original mannscripts of the poem.
That was definitely a rare feat (Frog) of the poet’s imaginative power. He seemed to hear the song of a nightingale (a bird of the night, in the sunny morning light. Thus the very conception of the poem is based on the poet’s imagination. The poem itself bears no less the delicate flight of his imagination here and there. The whole poem truly contains a number of grand images, wrought ( 26363) by Keals’s imagination:
5. What is the initial impact of the nightingale’s song on the poet?
After listening to the nightingale’s song, the poet wishes to escape to the romantic place of the nightingale. He is sick of this world. He finds here no hope or happiness, There are only failures and miseries in human life. There is no stage in which man is truly happy. His life is full of ceaseless struggles and restless movements. Old men soon grow feeble and infirm. They look miserable and pitiable with their almost bald heads and paralytic bodies. Young people, too, become pale and thin in no time. They pass away in illness ere long. Again, love does not last in this world for long. It flourishes only to fade away very soon. Beauty, too, decays quickly. A lovely lady soon becomes ugly. In fact, human life is full of endless pangs and agonies. Man thinks seriously only to become sad. His ideals and views are always haunted with a sense of despair . The nightingale, however, lives far away from the awful aspect of human life.
The poet seems to try to escape from the harsh reality of human life. But the lines bear his deep thoughts for the general tragedy of the human existence. Here the poet’s reflection attains universality.
6. “Away ! Away ! for I will fly to thee, -Bring out the significance of the lines.
The poet listens to the song of a nightingale that has a charming effect on him and leads him to long for an escape from the human world to the romantic realm of the bird. Here he reflects on the power of his poetic fancy to transport him to the lovely woodland of the bird.
Keats originally proposed to drink some old, invigorating, colourful wine to fly into the shady forest of the bird. But now he changes his mind and decides to seek no assistance from Bacchus, who is, in Greek mythology, the god of wine. The poet does no more intend to fly in the wine-god’s chariot, driven by his favourite animal, leopards. What he implies is that the intoxication of wine is not at all needed by him to transport himself to the world of beauty of the nightingale. He rather proposes to take the help of his poetic fancy for the purpose. Of course, he admits that he still suffers from the initial effect of the bird’s song and that his brain is yet to recover its normalcy to give full vent to his poetic fancy.
7. How does Keats describe the nightly sky in his Ode to the Nightingale?
Forthwith by means of his sweeping imagination, the poet feels his personal presence in the romantic woodland of the nightingale. He fancies the romance and charms of the nightly sky above. This is calm and lovely, with the moon shining, surrounded by the stars. The poet fancies the moon as the queen of the sky and the
stars as the attending on her. Of course, the poet admits that he cannot directly view all this, as he is in the dense forest of the nightingale. In fact, he is unable to see various flowers and leaves and creepers around him. He can only perceive their presence from their perfume.
The imagery of the moonlit, starry sky, or of the woodland flowers, creepers and leaves is all vivid rich and graceful. At the same time, the poet’s sweeping imagination is found to have a restrained balance of realism in his confession of his inability to see anything in the darkness of the forest.
8. “Darkling I listen, and for many a time.” Explain the appropriateness of the line.
Enchanted by the song of the nightingale in the graceful darkness of the bird’s woodland, the poet longs for a romantic, painless death. This is presented in this passage of the Ode (To a Nightingale) by Keats.
The poet listens to the song of the bird, sitting in darkness, and feels enraptured with joy. He can neither wish for nor hope for anything happier. He has often desired an easy and perfect death. He regards the state of his persent happiness as a suitable occasion for such a death. So he longs for dying quietly in the soft and peaceful moonlit midnight, while into his ears the bird is pouring the deep melody of its inspired music. Nothing could be more delicious than to die at such an hour in such a rapture of passionate delight. The poet says that he will die, as the nightingale contrnues to sing, and its song will be the dirge for the peace of his passing soul. But he will not be listening to its melody finally. He will become insensible like the turf of grass growing on his grave. But the song will go on.
The line expresses Keats’s romantic soul. Romanticism in Keats wants to have not an ordinary death, but a romantic one, with the nightingale “pouring forth’ its “soul abroad.” It is to be noted, however, that the romantic poet’s desire for death is not a longing for extinction but a yearning for happiness that he knows to be transcient to last for ever.
9. How does the poet sing of the immortality of the now nightingale?
The poet asserts that the nightingale is not destined to die. Of course, there is a logical fallacy in this, for the bird is as much mortal as any other living being. The implication here is, however, the immortality of the beauty of the song of the entire species, the nightingale, that remains imperishable. It is not subjected to any change or decay. It is free from the stiff struggle for survival or the suicidal conflict between generations in the human world. As a thing of beauty, the song of the bird has remained a joy for ever and thrilled all hearts at all times. The poet is just spelled by the song of the nightingale. In the remote past, the same song had the same enchantment on mighty monarchs and poor peasants equally.
It is not subjected to any change or decay. It is free from the stiff struggle for survival or the suicidal conflict between generations in the human world. As a thing of beauty, the song of the bird has remained a joy for ever and thrilled all hearts at all times. The poet imagines how the nightingale’s song had a wonderful effect on Ruth, a Biblical woman. According to the Old Testament, Ruth was a Moabite, who, married to a Hebrew, had to go to live in Judea, her husband’s land, after his death. She had to look after there her old mother-in-law Naomi and to work in the corn field of one of her husband’s relations. Keats imagines Ruth’s mental anguish as she was alone in a foreign-land. She then felt home-sick, shed tears and was much depressed. At that very time, the lovely song of a little nightingale, perhaps, chased away her sorrow and restored peace and joy in her heart.
10. What is the impact of the word ‘for lorn’ on the poet?
Keats, in the concluding lines of his Ode to a Nightingale, admits his failure to enjoy for long the beauty of the nightingale’s song, that has kept him long spellbound.
To Keats, a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. The song of the nightingale, in his concept, has an immortal beauty and so the joy given by it never ends. Nevertheless, the poet sadly perceives that this beauty cannot be enjoyed for long by him. The spell is soon broken. The poet is brought back from his romantic imagination to the sordid reality of his gloomy, real life. The very word ‘forlorn’, used in connection with the princess of the fairy land, reminds him of his own forlorn and sad lot. His life is lonely, with despair and distress all around him. It is hardly possible for him to forget his own hard existence and to become one with the beauty of the nightingale’s song. The real world is rather hard. It does not at all allow him to forget his dull and dreary life in romantic fancies. So he cannot long keep himself fascinated in the romance of the bird.
11. “Fade far away, dissolve and quite forget ………..
-Where does the poet want to fade away and how?
The poet wants to fade away to the forest dim of the nightingale. He longs to escape to the deep, dense forest where the bird dwells.
The poet at first thinks to take the help of wine to escape to the forest of the nightingale. Of course, this wine must not be anything ordinary. It must have a romantic association and a long past. It will appear romantic in the glass of the poet. The poet will drink this wine and pass into the realm of the nightingale.
The poet, however, soon changes his mind. He will not take the help of wine in his flight to the world of the nightingale. He will rather fly on the wings of his fancy. He will reach the romantic woodland of the nightingale by means of his poetic fancy.
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