Analysis of Ode to a Nightingale by Keats

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  • Topic: Poetry, Nightingale, Sense
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  • Published : May 1, 2007
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Ode to a Nightingale

This ode was inspired after Keats heard the song of a nightingale while staying with a friend in the country. This poem was also written after the death of his brother and the many references to death in this poem are a reflection of this. Among the thematic concerns in this poem is the wish to escape life through different routes. Although the poem begins by describing the song of an actual nightingale, the nightingale goes on to become a symbol of the immortality of nature.

In lines 1-3 Keats expresses a wish to dull and numb his senses artificially. He wishes to use "hemlock" or "some dull opiate" to numb his pain. He also makes a reference to Lethe, the river that those who are about to be reincarnated must drink from to forget their old lives when he says in line 4 that he has to "Lethe-wards…sunk". However it is not out of envy of the joy in the bird's song but because he is too happy that he wishes to numb his senses. In line 7 Keats refers to the nightingale as a "Dryad of the trees", a tree spirit, the bird has become a symbol.

In stanza two, Keats call "for a draught of vintage" that tastes of "Flora and country-green". In line 14 the wine tastes of "Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth". "Provencal" was a language used by medieval troubadours. Here Keats does not want to be drunk but rather he wants the wine to get into a state of happiness and merriment. He also wishes the wine to inspire him when he alludes to the "Hippocrene" in line 16, a fountain sacred to the muses said to bring poetic inspiration to those who drank from it.

The idea that wine will give him ideas is illustrated in line 17 with "beaded bubbles winking at the brim". Besides describing the Hippocrene, the bubbles are Keats' thoughts about to overflow. Drink is also a way for him to escape as he wishes to "fade away into the forest dim". The word "Fade" is repeated at the beginning of the first line of stanza three; joining it to the...
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