Ode To A Nightingale Summary

Ode To a Nightingale Summary

The poem was composed in May 1819. It so happened that the poet was staying with his friend Brown. Keats was always moved by the melodious song sung by Nightingale. That morning he took a chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree. There he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, his friend perceived, he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of the nightingale. Then they made necessary corrections and thus appeared his “Ode to a Nightingale”, a poem which has been the delight of everyone.

SUMMARY

The poet is inspired by the song of the Nightingale. He feels a pain in his heart and his senses are dulled. It is due to his happy participation in the happiness of the bird. He is happy because the bird is happy. The bird sings the spring songs in full-throated ease in some melodious plot covered with dense foliage. He needs a cup of old wine so that he may forget the world around him and fade into the world of the bird where there is no suffering. All the miseries that are here in the world of human beings are not there in the happy land of the nightingale. The world of men is full of pain and suffering. It is a place where men sit and hear each other complain against the miseries of life. They suffer untold miseries. People die in their youth. Beautiful women cannot maintain their beauty, so no one will love them beyond the next day. That is why he wants to leave this world and forget all the pains of life. Now on his imagination, he is there where the bird songs.

It is a dense forest there. Tender is the night and the moon, surrounded by stars, shines bright in sky. Some light comes to the ground through the leaves and thick trunks of the trees when they are shaken by the breezes. The poet cannot see what flowers grow there but he has got very keen senses and by the smell, just the smell of the flower he can easily guess what flower must be growing and blooming at a particular tree. The poet goes on listening to the song of the bird in the darkness and feels extremely delighted. He finds it an appropriate time to breathe his last. After his death the nightingale will still go on singing. He will become a sod, a dead body. The song of the bird will become a mass, a requiem for his soul. The song will continue. Hungry generations of human beings cannot kill the bird; man will come and man will go but the song of the bird will go on for ever. It was this very song that soothed the princess who was imprisoned in some magic castle in some fairy land forlorn. The very word ‘forlorn’ brings the poet back to his own solitary self. He finds that he himself is all alone in the world.

ode to a nightingale summary stanza by stanza

STANZA 1:

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.

 Reference: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

Context: The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet listens to the song of nightingale. The bird sings in its sweetest voice and the poet feels an excess of joy. The poet says that his heart feels a pain. His senses have become dull and he feels sleepy. It is due to excess of joy. He is like one who has drunk some hemlock, It is a poisonous product that brings sleep. Else he has taken some drug prepared of opium. Consequently, he seems to have forgotten everything. The poet feels that he has drowned down in Lethe. Lethe is the river in Hades, according to Greek mythology. A dip in the water of Lethe makes a person forget everything. The same is with the poet. The excess of joy has overpowered his senses and he seem to have forgotten everything. The poet seems to have forgotten everything and he feels dullness of the senses. It is not because he is jealous of the happiness of the nightingale. He is miserable while the bird is happy and cheerful and singing. But this is not the thing. Instead, he feels extreme happiness in the happiness of the bird. He is happy that the bird sings sweetly in some plot of beech trees. Big beech trees grow there. It is all dark all around due to the shadows caused by the rich foliage grown on the branches of the trees. However, the plot is full of the melodious song of the bird, the bird sings in praise of summer. The bird sings in the most spontaneous way. It makes no labour or effort. In other words, the song comes out of its soul in the most natural way. The nightingale is a ‘Dryad’ to the poet. Dryad is a fairy of the woods in Greek mythology. The nightingale of Keats is the swift bird which flies from one branch to another at its perfect ease and pleasure.

Comments:

 (i) Use of the words — Dryad, Hades lead us to Greek’s old world.

(ii) The poet presents his mental and emotional state on the basis of introspection.

 (iii) There is use of Thy-Thine’ Thou’.

(iv) Melodious plot of beechen green and shadows numberless’ is fine example of pictorial art.

 STANZA 2:

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 Provencal 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:

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet thinks that the nightingale is very happy. He imagines that it must be living in a world which is free from all pains and sufferings that are found among mankind. Hence to earlier enjoy that happiness he would like to go to the world of the bird. The poet wants a draught of some too old wine. The older is the wine the stronger it becomes. The wine should have been kept and cooled for a long time in deep pit of the earth; the reason is that it would give the wine greater strength. A draught of such a wine would transport the poet into a valley of flowers where there is all greenery about the countryside. It would remind him of the folk-dances and songs of the countryside where people sing and dance in the genial sunlight. The cheerfulness will be clearly visible on their faces.

The poet wants wine made in south France. The Southern districts of France known as Provence, are famous for their wine. The festival of Flora, the goodness of Flowers, is celebrated with a lot of singing, dancing and merry-making. The poet wants a beaker full of the wine from some warm, southern part of France. Such a wine will inspire him just as the water of Hippocrene was supposed to inspire those who drank a draught of it. Hippocrene, in Greek mythology, was a fountain on Mount Helicon. It was sacred to the Muses. It sprang by a blow of the hoof of the winged horse, Pegasus. The beaker or ‘surahi’ suggests the picture of a dancing girl who is dancing and bushing and winking at her lover. The rising and breaking of the bubbles is like winking, opening and closing of the eye of the girl. The mouth of the one who drinks wine becomes purple as the pink colour of the wine is reflected on face of the person.

 Comments:

(i) The poet wants strong wine so that he may drink some of it and forget the miserable world. Under the intoxication of wine, he wants to escape into the forest, the world of the nightingale where it sings cheerfully.

 (ii) Poet’s longing for wine is remarkable.

(iii) ‘Beaded bubbles, winking at the brim’ is example of the use of onomatopoeia.

 (iv) The purpose of asking for the wine is given in the last two lines.

 (v) Tasting of flora and the country green dance and Provencal song witness poet’s flight of imagination.

(vi) The poet satisfies sense of. Taste. He is a poet of sensuousness.

STANZA 3:

 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.

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet wants to escape from the miseries and sufferings of the world. He wants to go to the world of nightingale. The reason is the bird knows no human sorrow and suffering. As such, the world where she is living, must be free from these. With the help of a strong draught of vintage, the poet wants to dissolve. He wishes to forget all the griefs, pains, sufferings that this miserable world has. He wants to forget all the griefs, pains and sorrows that the bird living in its happy world of trees and forests does not know. Then, the poet explains all that the human world is made up of. The world of man is a miserable place. The nightingale is not aware of these miseries. The world is a place of weariness, cut, throat competitions and fret. People are weary, they suffer from one disease or the other. They hanker after one thing or the other. Whenever people sit together, they complain of the unhappy lot of life. People suffer from paralysis, they are sad, they get old with grey hair on their heads. Even in youth, people grow pale and lifeless and meet their death. When one thinks of the world, one thinks of a miserable place. The very thought of the world is a painful thought. Hence it brings great despairs into the minds of the people. The world is a place where young and beautiful women cannot maintain their beauty. Their youth and beauty vanish soon and they lose all their charm. As a result, no one will love them beyond the next day. They remain young only for a day or so; As a result, they are loved only for a day so. One thinks one cares for them. No lover will sigh for them beyond the next day.

The stanza presents a powerful picture of the sufferings and miseries of life. It indicates that youth vanish, beauty diminishes and love evaporates. Everything is short-lived and transitory is life, Nothing, is permanent. Love is also not a permanent passion. ‘Where youth grow pale’ refers to the death of the younger brother of Keats, Tom who died of consumption and breathed his last in the lap of the poet.

 Comments:

(i) The poet has listed the main causes of sufferings, weariness, fever and fret.

 (ii) The pen-portrait of people sitting and listening to one another’s sorrows is superb.

(iii) Simile of spectre thin is apt.

 (iv) Beauty is personified. It cannot keep her lustrous eyes.

(v) Love is personified. It pines at the sight of beauty.

 STANZA 4:

 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.

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet wanted to go the happy world of the bird. He wants a draught of vintage so that he might forget everything and feel himself in the happy world of the nightingale. But now he changes his mind. He wants to go to the happy world of the nightingale but he does not want to go there as wished earlier with the help of wine. He does not want to ride the chariot of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine. The chariot of Bacchus is drawn by leopards and followed by frenzied followers of Bacchus. The poet does not seek the help of wine any more that is he would not go to the nightingale by drinking wine. Instead, he would go there through his power of imagination. Reasoning, the power of intellect, opposes the idea; it puts obstacles in the way of his imaginative flight. However, the very next moment the poet feels that he is there with the nightingale.

Through the power of imagination, the poet feels that he is there in the forest with the bird. It is very pleasant. The night has just started. It is by chance that the full moon shines bright. It is surrounded by a number of stars. It looks like a Queen who has fairies around her who attend on her. The moon is the Queen and stars are the fairies attending on her. The poet finds that there is no light in the grove where the bird sits and sings. It is all dark there; The reason is the area is covered with dense foliage of the large trees. Some light still travels from the moon to the |ground. It happens when the wind blows. The moss-covered trees are shaken. Through the zig-zag passages of branches some light comes to the ground. The big branches are covered with moss. Hence the splits among them are given the name mossy ways. They are shaken by the breezes. As they move this way and that, some light travels to the ground where the bird sits and sings.

Comments

  • Use of Bacchus and his pards reflects the impression of Greek mythology on the poet.
  •  Dull brain is personified. It retards the flight of poets’ imagination.
  • The picturesque description of the moon and stars in the sky is praiseworthy.
  • Diction is too easy but meaningful.

STANZA 5:

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.

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet is transported to the world of the nightingale through the power of his imagination. He finds that it is all dark there where the bird sits and sings. He cannot see what flowers grow near his feet. He cannot see what type of tender flowers are on the branches around him. The darkness is full of sweet fragrance and in this darkness his senses have become too powerful. He can smell and guess exactly where a particular flower grows. The month of the flowering season brings certain flowers and he can well guess the flowers distinctly. In the darkness the poet can distinctly find out what flowers are growing on the grass, the bushes and the wild fruit trees. He can guess the exact location of the hawthorn with white flowers and the eglantine which is often mentioned in pastoral poetry. There are violets covered up in leaves. They have short life and wither away very soon. There is the musk-rose which is soon to bloom-it is the best flower of the middle of May. Hence it is given the name eldest child of mud-May the musk rose is full of nectar which is so dear to the bees. So the bees haunt this flower in large numbers during the summer evenings.

This stanza is remarkable for the sensuous perception of the poet. The poet has a strong sense perception. He cannot see what flower grows where but by perceiving the fragrance that comes to his nostrils, he can guess the exact place of every type of flower distinctly.

 Comments:

       (i)  Embalmed darkness is coinage of the poet.

       (ii) Poet’s great knowledge in the field of flowers is exhibited. He knows the months and the flowers which bloom therein.

       (iii)  Musk-rose is personified.

       (iii)   Use of liquid consonants makes the poem musical e.g. ‘incense, hangs upon’.

STANZA 6:

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.

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

 Explanation: The poet listens to the song of the nightingale in the darkness. He cannot see anything around him but he listens to the sweet song of the bird. He feels happy. He has been in love with death for a long time. The world is a miserable place so death would bring him solace. He finds that it would be better for him to meet his death at this time. Earlier he wrote beautiful and perfect poems in the praise of death. In those poems he invited death to take his breath into the air. Now when the bird sings happily, he finds the time very opportune to go his death. He would die in the middle of the night. He will feel no pain of death. The bird will be singing its happy song in great ecstasy. The song of the bird comes from the very core of its soul. This is the reason why its song has a rich element of happiness. Now, suppose the poet dies-the bird will still go on singing. He will become a dead body, a piece of earth, a sod. His ears will no more be able to listen to the sweet and happy song of the nightingale. The song of the bird will be like a ‘prayer’ which will give solace to his departed soul. Keats imagines the bird to be singing requiem for the dead. The poet had been half in love with death. ‘Half-if had been fully in love with death, he would have died long back. Death is ‘easeful’ as it releases the soul from the pangs of the world, miseries and misfortunes of the times and slings and the verbal arrows of the people.

Comments:

  • Poet’s pessimism and longing for meeting death corresponds to that of Shelley.
  •  The word picture of his lying dead and bird’s going on singing as if a requiem is apt.
  • Keats uses the pronoun him for death while it has ever been used in feminine gender.
  •  Half in love with easeful death, consists far reaching meaning.

STANZA 7:

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.

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a by the poet John Keats. Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: The poet calls the bird immortal not because the individual nightingale does not die. Instead, he calls it immortal because its song remains unchanged. The struggle for existence which does not let the human beings and other beasts have peace, is unknown to the nightingale. When it dies, its coming generations pick up the same song and sing it equally well. Thus, they do not trample upon the memory of their ancestors. On the other hand, when a man dies. He is forgotten. Thus, man lives here as an individual while the nightingale lives as a race. There has come no change in its song from the earliest times to the present day. The nightingale’s song heard by the poet is the same as must have been heard in the past by the emperor and the clown alike. Keats imagines that the immortal song of the nightingale must have been heard by Ruth. She was working on the fields of Boaz with a heavy heart and streams of tears rolling from her eyes. She had a desire to go back to her parents. It must have given consolation to her. The poet feels that it must have been the same song that was heard by a princess standing at the magic windows of some charmed castle in the lonely legendary countries of romance. She could have jumped out of the cell through the window. But it opened on the sea that was full of stormy peril. It must have given her consolation while she waited for her lover’s return through the stormy seas. The castle was in a lonely place. The poet leads us to the land of imagination and enchantment here.

Comments:

(i) Ruth is a Biblical character; she was a Moabitess who was married a lonely place in Bethlehem. After the death of her husband, she had to earn her livelihood by serving on the fields of Boaz. Later on, she married him and both became ancestors of King David.

 (ii) The same ……..forlorn-(a) Described by Kipling as three of the most romantic lines in the entire range of English poetry. These lines are really an essence of romanticism. They bring before our eyes the entire imagery of Romances and are very suggestive.

(iii) These lines may have been suggested by the picture of “The Enchanted Castle’ by Claude. In fact, the theme found immense favour with the romancers of the Middle Ages. Their fairy tales abound in such stories of princesses in captivity.

  • The poet traces the background of Nightingale’s song.

STANZA 8:

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
  To toil 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?

Reference to Context: This stanza is extracted from the poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ composed by the poet John keats.

The poet was staying with his friend Brown. It was in May 1819. He heard the magical song of the nightingale. He was moved and then he composed the present poem.

Explanation: As soon as the poet thinks of the word ‘Forlorn’, he comes to the world of reality from the world of imagination. Just as ringing in the morning inspires people to be ready to face the reality of the day, the word “Forlorn’ alarms the poet. It shakes him of his dream and he comes to the world of reality. From the world of peace and beauty and happiness of the bird, he comes back to his lonely self. He says good-bye to the song of the bird. He realises that fancy is a deceitful fairy; but it cannot cheat so well as it is famed to do. He has become wiser and has realised that imagination cannot create a permanent illusion. Man has to face realities after all though imagination is said to be capable of making people free from the realities of the world. The poet addresses imagination as a deceptive fairy. The poet bids good bye to the song of the bird. The song is no more happy or cheerful, it is a song of pain and complaints. The song of the nightingale is fading gradually. The song fades over the hill and across the valley, passing over meadows and the streams which are so far that songs’ sound so not heard at all. Now the poet rubs his eyes and asks whether the song of the nightingale was real and he was really listening to it. He is not sure whether he was dreaming or waking.

Ode To A Nightingale Poet

John Keats was born on October, 1795 at Finsbury, London in an undistinguished family. In 1818 his poem ‘Endymion’ on which he had built the greatest hope was severely condemned in The Quarterly Review and Blockwood’s Magazine by the political opponent of Hunt. The reviewers branded Keats with Leigh Hunt and his friends as The Cockney School of Poetry. His brother Tom died in December 1818. Soon Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne.

His mother, a widow, at first did not consent to their marriage, but later on she did relent, and Keats was engaged to Fanny, though it was never publicly announced. She, however, insisted that their marriage would not take place until Keats’ financial position improved. But Keats! financial position went on deteriorating, and, therefore, their marriage was never solemnized. Keats was torn between passion and jealousy, and got little comfort from his love.

However, his work did not suffer, and to the close of 1818, and to 1819 belong his greatest poems. On 18 September, 1820 he sailed for Italy in the company of Joseph Severn, a student painter, His health was rapidly deteriorating. After some months of agonizing illness, he died on 23 February, 1821, aged 25, with Severn watching him. Three days later he was buried on the Protestant cemetery at Rome, not far from the place where Shelley was to lie a year after. And upon his tombstone were inscribed, at his own request, the words, Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

Keats’ Main Works

Keats’ main poetical works are:

1. Sleep and Poetry (1817)

2. Endymion (1818)

3. Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1818)

4. Hyperion (began 1818, abandoned in 1819)

5. The Eve of St. Agnes (1819-published 1820)

6. Lamia (1819-published 1820)

7. La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1819)

8. The Eve of St. Mark (1819)

9. Keats’ Great Odes (written in 1819) -Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Cde to Psyche, Ode to Melancholy, Ode on Indolence, Ode to Mica (fragment), to Autumn.

10. Sonnets In all Keats has left sixty-three sonnets.

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