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Comparison and Contrast between Keats' Ode to Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn

Ode to Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn are finest examples of pictorial quality and sensuousness. There are both similarities and dissimilarities in these odes. As the theme is concerned both the poems are similar. Both the poems deal with a universal theme mortal and immortal, transience and permanence. Similarities on the basis of structure The structure of the Ode on a Grecian Urn has a close parallel is that of its contemporary Ode to Nightingale. The Ode to Nightingale with its eight stanzas is longer but has the same kind of plan and development. The first verse provides the introduction in which the poet, feeling like one numbed or drugged, hears the Nightingale singing of summer. Though no explicit questions are asked, the contrast between the exhaustion of the poet and the rapturous song of the bird is itself a question and provokes what follows. In the second to seventh verses, Keats develops the main subject which is the effect of the Nightingales song on him. He wishes in turn to fade away with the bird, to dissolve and forget his fever and his fret, to cease upon the midnight; then he rises to a more positive theme. He sees that the birds song belongs to a timeless order of things and the climax comes at the end of the seventh stanza with its recognition that song like this is beyond the grasp of death. The eighth stanza brings the conclusion in which Keats returns to reality and relates his enrapturing experience to it, recognizing that he can not for long share the ecstasy of the birds song. He has come back to where he started but something has happened which makes him unsure of himself asking whether he is awake or asleep. Keats has understood the birds rapture and entered into it and he sees more clearly the ambiguous nature of his relations to all such experiences. And just as in the Ode on a Grecian Urn Keats deepens the significance of his poem by his contrasts between ideal beauty and actual life, so in the Ode to a Nightingale. At each stage of the Ode on a Grecian Urn Keats transforms poetry to which he had given prolonged attention and which are very much his own. Similarity on the basis of the use of symbol Both the odes are rich in the use of symbol. The central symbol of Ode to Nightingale is Nightingale. On the other hand the main symbol of Ode on a Grecian Urn is Urn. Nightingale symbolizes happiness. As the poem progresses, the song does not remain the song of a particular bird it becomes a symbol of the eternal beauty for the poet. It is in this sense that the poet cries out: Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird. The song of the bird will never come to an end because it has become one with the universal beauty. In Ode on a Grecian Urn Keats calls the Urn as unravishd bride of quietness. The Urn is a concrete symbol of some vast reality which can be reached only through knowledge of individual objects. The Urn is also the foster child of silences and slow time.

Addressing the Urn Keats says; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: In Ode to a Nightingale the world of Nightingale is a symbol of perfection, happiness with its fullness. The Grecian Urn is the symbol of immorality of art.

Similarity on the basis of Personification In this poem Ode to a Nightingale, Nightingale is personified. To the eye of the poet, the bird is a symbol of happiness and perfection. The Nightingales world is the ideal world where the poet wishes to go to free him from the pings and sufferings of the world. But just one word forlorn is enough to call him back from the world of Nightingale to the world of those who are suffering from palsy, growing pale, spectre thin and then dying. The world of Nightingale with all its charm can not take away from Keats heart his sense of oneness with his earthly fellow beings who are suffering from fever and fret of the world. Same is true in the case of the Urn. In Ode on a Grecian Urn' the Urn is personified. It stands for beauty and permanence. It contrasts with the transitoriness of human life which is full of misery. The poet knows the value of the Urn as a beautiful piece of art but at the same time he realizes that beauty is not the only thing of importance. The Urn though immortal is speechless. It lacks the warmth and vigor of life. Similarity on the basis of sensuousness Keats expands the range of his sensuousness from pictures of physical love to the pictures of natural beauties. In Ode to a Nightingale the poet looks for eternal beauty. The beauty of the song of Nightingale is beautiful from time immemorial. It delights all people in all ages every where. The Urn itself is a symbol of everlasting beauty. The painter may die but the beauty of the painting is everlasting. The poet may die but poetry is undying. Similarity on the basis of temperament In all his poems, the poet is Greek in temper and spirit. The poems convey the poets minds inborn temperamental Greek ness. He is a representative of Greek thought and culture in a sense in which Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge are not. In Ode to a Nightingale there are references of Dryad, Hippocrene, Dacchus, Lethe- which remind us of Greek mythology. The Urn itself is from Greek mythology. It immortalizes Greek joy, culture, religion. The Grecian Urn shows the poet as the true representative of Greek, as the Urn outlives Greek culture. The Urn is the beauty. It is as true as the Greek immortality. Similarity on the basis of Disillusionment Both poems show that escape from the real world is never possible. In Ode to the Nightingale

it is the word forlorn that puts the clock black. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn it is the realization of the death like, machine like, warmthless, speechless silence of the Urn that brings Keats back into the world of reality. Dissimilarities The tone of Ode to Nightingale is pathetic and it is more subjective than Ode on a Grecian Urn. The tone is joyous and objective in Ode on a Grecian Urn. The overall tone of the poem is melancholic in Ode to Nightingale. The poem is also very subjective, because it draws reference from Keats own life. The expressions fever and fret the spectre thin etc clearly refer to the pathetic death of Keats brother. The poem is written immediately after the death of his brother. On the other hand Keats tone in Ode to Grecian Urn is very joyful. Here he celebrates the beauty of the Urn, the joyfulness of the lovers and the excitement of the religious sacrifice. He uses the word happy several times. More importantly unlike Nightingale it is not based on his personal loss. The poem was written after one of his visits to the British museum. In these Odes the speaker wants to go beyond the better realties of the world by a kind of visionary imagination of the happy world. But when he comes to learn that the kind of imagination he is pursuing is a false temptation, he rejects the visionary imagination and comes back to harsh reality.

Themes With "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats's speaker begins his fullest and deepest exploration of the themes of creative expression and the mortality of human life. In this ode, the transience of life and the tragedy of old age ("where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies") is set against the eternal renewal of the nightingale's fluid music ("Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!"). The speaker reprises the "drowsy numbness" he experienced in "Ode on Indolence," but where in "Indolence" that numbness was a sign of disconnection from experience, in "Nightingale" it is a sign of too full a connection: "being too happy in thine happiness," as the speaker tells the nightingale. Hearing the song of the nightingale, the speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to reach the bird's state through alcohol--in the second stanza, he longs for a "draught of vintage" to transport him out of himself. But after his meditation in the third stanza on the transience of life, he rejects the idea of being "charioted by Bacchus and his pards" (Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and was supposed to have been carried by a chariot pulled by leopards) and chooses instead to embrace, for the first time since he refused to follow the figures in "Indolence," "the viewless wings of Poesy." The rapture of poetic inspiration matches the endless creative rapture of the nightingale's music and lets the speaker, in stanzas five through seven, imagine himself with the bird in the darkened forest. The ecstatic music even encourages the speaker to embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the nightingale's music and never experiencing any further pain or disappointment. But when his meditation causes him to utter the word "forlorn," he comes back to himself, recognizing his fancy for what it is--an imagined escape from the inescapable ("Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam'd to do,

deceiving elf"). As the nightingale flies away, the intensity of the speaker's experience has left him shaken, unable to remember whether he is awake or asleep. In "Indolence," the speaker rejected all artistic effort. In "Psyche," he was willing to embrace the creative imagination, but only for its own internal pleasures. But in the nightingale's song, he finds a form of outward expression that translates the work of the imagination into the outside world, and this is the discovery that compels him to embrace Poesy's "viewless wings" at last. The "art" of the nightingale is endlessly changeable and renewable; it is music without record, existing only in a perpetual present. As befits his celebration of music, the speaker's language, sensually rich though it is, serves to suppress the sense of sight in favour of the other senses. He can imagine the light of the moon, "But here there is no light"; he knows he is surrounded by flowers, but he "cannot see what flowers" are at his feet. This suppression will find its match in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which is in many ways a companion poem to "Ode to a Nightingale." In the later poem, the speaker will finally confront a created art-object not subject to any of the limitations of time; in "Nightingale," he has achieved creative expression and has placed his faith in it, but that expression--the nightingale's song--is spontaneous and without physical manifestation. Commentary on ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE 1819 (1820) In this meditation on poetic experience, the poet attempts to conceptualize a reconciliation of beauty and permanence through the symbol of the nightingale. The poet begins by explaining the nature and cause of the sadness he is experiencing, a sadness translated into a physical ache and a drowsy numbness. He feels as he might if he had taken some poison or sedating drug. This feeling is in fact the result of a deep awareness of the happiness of the nightingale he hears singing. His resulting pleasure is so intense it has become painful. He longs for some intoxicant that will let him achieve union with the nightingale, take him out of the world, and allow him to forget human suffering and despair and the transience of all experience. Wine, however, is rejected in favour of the poetic imagination. He enters some twilight region of the mind. While he can see nothing, the other senses feed his imagination, constructing within his mind what cannot be seen in fact. This prompts him to contemplate leaving the world altogether. He realises, however, that the ultimate form of forgetfulness, of escape from the troubles of life, would be death. Death at such a moment, listening to the nightingale pouring forth its soul in ecstasy, would be the supreme ending. And yet death is rejected. As the poet realises, the bird would sing on, and he would be unable to hear it. While all humans must die, the nightingale is, in some sense, immortal. The poet, thinking back to the classical world of the Roman emperors and to the Old Testament world of Ruth, considers how its song has been heard for so many centuries. Keats takes us even further back, into a fairy world, a landscape both magical and yet forlorn. With this word `forlorn', the spell is broken: the poet returns to the self, to the present. Fancy, he claims, has failed him once more. He again becomes aware of the landscape around him and the bird's song begins to fade, leaving him wondering whether his experience was a vision or a waking dream. The nightingale has traditionally been associated with love. The influential myth of Philomela, turned into a nightingale after being raped and tortured, stresses melancholy and suffering in association with love. It has also been associated with poetry. Keats no doubt knew Coleridge's

two poems `To the Nightingale' (1796) and `The Nightingale: "A Conversation Poem"', and, according to his letters, only days before writing this ode he had talked with the older poet on such subjects as nightingales, poetry and poetical sensation. Why did Keats choose the nightingale's song as the basis of meditation in this poem? Is he drawing upon its traditional associations or not? Such critics as Helen Vendler believe that in the choice of music Keats finds a symbol of pure beauty, non-representational, without any reference to ideas, to moral or social values. The nightingale's song is vocal, but without verbal content, and can serve as a pure expressive beauty. Others have argued that it represents the music of nature, which can be contrasted with human art, verbal or musical. The poem is basically structured around the contrast between the poet, who is earthbound, and the bird, which is free. A related opposition is that between the mortal world, full of sorrow and marked by transience, and the world of the nightingale, marked by joy and immortality. One of the points that has troubled many critics is this claim of immortality for the nightingale: 'Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!' (line 61). The nightingale is, after all, a natural creature. It has been suggested that Keats is referring not to the individual bird, but to the species. This solution has been strongly criticised, however, as humanity, the `hungry generations' (line 62), could also be credited with such immortality as a species. An alternative suggestion is that the nightingale addressed in stanza 7 is purely symbolic; is this solution more convincing? If so, what does the nightingale symbolise? A further interpretation might be that, since the nightingale sings only at night and was traditionally thought of, therefore, as invisible, it, through its `disembodied' song, transcends the material world (so in that sense is immortal); and here Keats is talking of `embalmed darkness', an atmosphere of death. Another problematic point is Keats's final question on the status of his experience: `Was it a vision, or a waking dream?' (line 79). Some critics have decidedly affirmed that the poem is about the inadequacy of the imagination, a rejection of the `deceiving elf' (line 79). Others see more ambivalence in Keats's attitude. After the possibility of joining the bird in its immortal world has been rejected as a trick of the fancy, they would argue, Keats still suggests through his final question that such vision or transcendent experience is possible, or, at least, still something for which he longs. Is this, ultimately, an escapist poem, or is Keats emphasising the need to accept the human condition, with all the suffering that is associated with it? Compare the ode, in this respect, with the `Ode on Melancholy'. Language is effectively used to create mood. In the opening of the poem, for example, a sense of sluggish weightiness is suggested by the heavy thudding alliterative `d', `p', and `m' when Keats describes his own dull ache. Compare this with the effects created in the second half of the stanza by the light assonantal sounds in such words as `light' and `Dryad' and the sensuous assonantal sounds of 'beechen', `green' and `ease' when Keats turns to the joy of the nightingale. Compare the vitality and the jubilant tempo of stanza 2 with the dull heaviness and monotony in stanza 3. How are these different effects created? Consider, for a start, the use of repetition, with devices like parallelism and anaphora. There is a dense concentration of sense impressions in this ode, and a frequent use of synaesthesia. In stanza 1, for example, the `plot' where the bird sings is itself `melodious' and the song contains `summer': the visual evokes the aural and the aural the visual. In stanza 2, Keats conveys the taste of wine with reference to colour, action, song and

sensation. When Keats says, in stanza 5, `I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, / Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs', the suggestion that the incense could be seen emphasises the density and headiness of the perfume: it is so strong it seems visible, tangible. This is often said to be the most personal of the odes. Perhaps it would be better to say that from the abrupt opening of :"My heart aches' onwards, it creates the impression of being the most subjective. Leaving aside the claim by many critics that it is personal in an autobiographical way, how is this impression of subjectivity achieved? It is the processes and movement of the poet's mind that are the central focus of `Ode to a Nightingale', and the personal `I' is very much in evidence. In this respect compare the poem with the `Ode on a Grecian Urn'. Lethe-wards (Greek myth) Lethe is one of the rivers of Hades; the dead are obliged to drink from it in order that they may forget everything said and done when alive Dryad a tree nymph Hippocrene (Greek myth) the fountain of the Muses on Mount Helicon and therefore associated with poetic inspiration; here the term is used to suggest red wine as another source of inspiration Bacchus and his pards (Roman myth) the god of wine; the pards are the leopards which draw his chariot

Negative capability in Keatss poetry


'The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.' Keats was a romantic poet, full of intense passion and desire, yet shy and reserved. He was a young man with all the determination and melancholy of a teenager on a romantic quest to be among the English poets when he died. He is an inspiration to all of us, full of colourful language and imagination. He battled through tuberculosis and only lived to be 26. He wanted to be famous, and he has well and truly lived up to his dream. Keats longed to find beauty in what was often an ugly and terrible world. He was an admirer of Shakespeare, and his reading of the Bard is insightful and intriguing, illustrating the genius of Shakespeare's creativity. In a letter to his brothers, Keats describes this genius as 'Negative Capability': 'At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.' This description can be compared to a definition of conflict: 'An emotional state characterized by indecision, restlessness, uncertainty and tension resulting from incompatible inner needs or drives of comparable intensity.' These two definitions are very similar; the meaning of conflict sounds very negative and hopeless. However, Keats' creative concept seems positive and full of potential by leaving out 'restlessness' by avoiding an 'irritable reaching after fact and reason' In another letter, Keats says that the 'poetical character... has no self- it is everything and nothing- it has no character and enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated- it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous

philosopher delights the camelion Poet... A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity, he is continually filling some other body' In order for Keats to be able to create true poetry, one had to be able to remain in what may be states of conflict without 'irritably' reaching after facts or reasons. By not imposing one self upon the doubts and uncertainties which make up a conflict, Keats would rather we were open to the Imagination. The word 'doubt' it from the Latin, 'dubitare' and comes from 'two' as in two minds. In most conflicts, two people (i.e. two minds) oppose each other. Yet instead of fighting the other, Keats finds the situation to be one that is open for creativity. In this sense, Negative Capability is a sublime expression of supreme empathy. And empathy, is the capacity for participating in, experiencing and understanding another's feelings or ideas. It's a creative tool to help us understand each other, understand different points of views or different cultures so that we might be able to express them. Being able to see thing from another's point of view, and to apply an open, imaginative creativity, are both critical, poetical methods to resolve conflicts creatively.

This phrase must confuse many people, who think it means 'being capable'. It actually means 'being capable of eliminating one's own personality, in order imaginatively to enter into that of another person, or, in extreme cases, an animal or an object'. The phrase was coined by Keats, in a letter- 22nd Dec 1817, to his brothers George and Thomas: 'it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievment, especially in literature and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when Man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason'. It looks, on the face of it, as if the kind of genius Keats is thinking about, simply cannot make up his mind, and that is partly the case; but the reason he cannot make up his mind is because his own identity is precarious, and he is continually being invaded by the identies of other people. The person of fixed opinion, such as Wordsworth, enjoys, or perhaps suffer from, 'egotistic sublime'. In an earlier letter, of the 22nd November 1817, Keats had affirmed that 'Men of Genius' do not have 'any individuality' or 'determined character'. Another letter (27th October 1818) defines 'the poetic character' as taking 'as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen', adding 'what shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the camelion poet'. We see 'Negative Capability' in operation in Keats as he contemplates a bird on a gravel path, and he told Richard Woodhouse that he could even conceive of a billiard ball taking a sense of delight in 'its own roundness, smoothness, volubility and the rapidity of its motion'. When in a room with the dangerous, leopardess-like woman Jane Cox, he felt her identity pressing in upon him: 'I forget myself entirely because I live in her' (letter of October 1818). Many writers have identified themselves as having 'Negative Capability', even if they have not always used the phrase. Coleridge speaks in a letter of November 1819 of 'a sort of transfusion and transmission of my consciousness to identify myself with the object'. Byron says, in a letter to Thomas Moore (4th March 1822) that he embodies himself 'with the character' while he is drawing it. Browning claims to be able imaginatively to enter other beings. Clough's main character in Amours de Voyage says '...I walk, I behold.../That I can be and become anything

that I meet with or look at'. T.S.Elliot in Tradition and the Individual Talent writes that 'the progress of the artist is a continual self sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.' Mrs Ramsey, in Virginia Woolfe's 'To the Lighthouse', looks intently 'until she became the things she looked at'. Certainly it is a pervasive characteristic of the creative faculty. Margaret Atwood writes in Second Words (1982) of the writers desire to be teleported into somebody else's mind, but retaining one's own perceptions and memories. Many artists long for such freedom of movement, but a central philosophical problem remains in all this: if other beings take over the artist's mind, how can the artist present them in a decisive, descriminating way; on the other hand, if the artist enters other beings with his or her own personality, perceptions and memories intact (like Satan entering the body of the serpent), how can it be claimed that they remain other beings? 4. CRITICAL APPRECIATION A Masterpiece The Ode to a Nightingale shows the ripeness and maturity of Keatss poetic faculty. This poem is truly a masterpiece, showing the splendour of Keatss imaginat ion on its pure romantic side, and remarkable also for its note of reflection and meditation. The central idea here is the contrast of the joy and beauty and apparent permanence of the nightingales song with the sorrows of human life and the transitoriness of beauty and love in this world. Its Melancholy, and the Note of Pessimism A passionate melancholy broods over the whole poem. The passage describing the sorrows and misfortunes of life is deeply pessimistic. The world is full of weariness, fever, and fret, and the groans of suffering humanity. Palsy afflicts the old and premature, death overtakes the young. To think here is to be full of sorrow; both beauty and love are short-lived. The Reason for the Poets Despondency Keats wrote this poem shortly after the death (from consumption) of his brother Tom to whom he was deeply attached. He was also perhaps thinking of the premature death of Elizabeth Taylor. He was therefore weighed down by a profound sense of the tragedy of life; and of that sense of tragedy, this poem is a poignant expression. The Desire to Die The note of pessimism is found also in the lines where the poet expresses a desire to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain. When we remember that Keats actually died a premature death, we realise the note of unconscious prophecy in these lines, which for this reason become still more pathetic. Sorrows of Life in General; and the Personal Griefs The passionately personal and human character of this poem is thus obvious. It reveals Keatss sense of the tragedy of human life in general and his sense of personal suffering in particular. The poem brings before our eyes a painful picture of the sorrows and griefs of human life, and at the same time it conveys to us the melancholy and sadness which had afflicted Keats for various reasons. The poem is the cry of a wounded soul. Its Rich Sensuousness and Pictorial Quality

The poem is one of the finest examples of Keatss pictorial quality and his rich sensuousness. We have an abundance of rich, concrete, and sensuous imagery. The lines in which the poet expresses a passionate desire for some Provincial wine or the red wine from the fountain of the Muses have a rich appeal: O for a draught of vintage, that hath been Coold a long age in the deep-delved earth, Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth! These lines bring before us a delightful picture of Provence with its fun and frolic, jollity, merry-making, drinking and dancing. Similarly, the beaker full of the sparkling, blushful Hippocrene is highly pleasing. Then there is the magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky and surrounded by stars, looking like a queen surrounded by her attendant fairies: And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne. Clusterd around by all her starry Fays. The rich feast of flowers that awaits us in the next stanza is one of the outstanding beauties of the poem. Flowers, soft incense, the fruit trees, the white hawthorn, the eglantine, the fast-fading violets, the coming musk-rose full of sweet juiceall this is a delight for our senses. Apart from these sensuous pictures, there is also the vivid and pathetic image of Ruth when, sick for home, she stood tearful amid the alien corn. This is a highly suggestive picture calling up many associations to the mind of one who is acquainted with the Bible.