Ode to a Nightingale
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. 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: 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. 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. I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
and. Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades Past the near meadows. Darkling I listen. Thou wast not born for death.But. White hawthorn. when. in faery lands forlorn. And mid-May's eldest child. or a waking dream? Fled is that music:--Do I wake or sleep? John Keats (1795-1821)
. deceiving elf. for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death. 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. the thicket. sick for home. She stood in tears amid the alien corn. 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. To take into the air my quiet breath. The coming musk-rose. full of dewy wine. and the fruit-tree wild. guess each sweet Wherewith the seasonable month endows The grass. over the still stream. Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme. Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves. 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. and now 'tis buried deep In the next valley-glades: Was it a vision. and the pastoral eglantine. in embalmed darkness. Up the hill-side. The same that oft-times hath Charm'd magic casements. To cease upon the midnight with no pain. The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves. immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down. Now more than ever seems it rich to die. opening on the foam Of perilous seas.
intensity of feeling/numbness or lack of feeling.Analysis: "Ode to a Nightingale"
A major concern in "Ode to a Nightingale" is Keats's perception of the conflicted nature of human life. As you read the poem. together they produce pleasure ("mirth"). Stanza I. mortal/immortal. country pleasure. the artist. you must follow the dreamer's development or his lack of development from his initial response to the nightingale to his final statement about the experience. Stanza II. In this ode. What is the effect of the images associating the wine with summer. and separation/connection. the music (beauties) of nature the ideal. Does the experience which Keats describes change the dreamer? As reader. In this deadened. think about what the bird comes to symbolize. The description of drinking and of the world associated with wine is idealized. The poet falls into a reverie while listening to an actual nightingale sing.. In the beginning the bird is presented as a real bird. The bird may symbolize more than one thing. "drowsy" almost to the point of death. Rather he associates wine with some quality or state he is seeking. His purpose is clearly not to get drunk. He feels joy and pain. and romantic Provence? The word "vintage" refers to a fine or prime wine. as if he has poisoned himself ("as though of hemlock I had drunk") or taken drugs ("Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains"). i. "Sunburnt mirth" is an excellent example of synaesthesia in Keats'
He begins by explaining that through the contemplation of the nightingale's song. with the bird's voice being self expression or the song being poetry. an ambivalent response. which is sunburnt because the country dances are held outdoors. the actual/the ideal. Possible meanings include
• • • •
pure or unmixed joy. He calls for wine. . from which the reader can draw a conclusion or abstraction. Wanting to escape from the pain of a joy-pain reality. near-death state. he achieves a degree of identification with the bird and is almost too happy in the bird's happiness ("being too happy in thine happiness"). concrete sensations and emotions. he has gone beyond the limitations of the conscious mind to a new state that makes him feel sleepy. a model of what Keats would like to be: a poet who writes perfect poet as easily as the bird sings. the poet begins to move into a world of imagination or fantasy. why does he use this word? (Would the effect differ if the poet-dreamer imagined drinking a rotgut wine?) Why does Keats describe the country as "green"? Would the effect be different if the countryside were brown or yellowed? The activities in line 4 follow one another naturally: dance is associated with song. life/death. the interconnection or mixture of pain/joy.e. Keats focuses on immediate. The bird who "Singest of summer in full-throated ease" is the natural artist. but as the poem progresses. the bird becomes a symbol.
he rejects wine in line 2. This image of the bubbles is concrete.. in contrast. What is the effect of the words "fade" and "dissolve"? why "far away"? What is the relationship of the bird to the world the poet describes? See line 2. alive? Stanza V. what kind of world does the nightingale live in? (Is it the same as or different from the poet's?) Lead is a heavy metal. he must rely on his other senses. The image of the "beaded bubbles winking at the brim" is much admired. The poet suddenly cries out "Away! away! for I will fly to thee. which is associated with emotion? In line 5. What senses does he rely on? Are his experience and his sensations intense? for himself only or for the reader also? Even in this refuge. on passion. or have no effect on the poet's desire to escape the world? The poet uses the word "fade" in the last line of stanza II and in the first line of this stanza to tie the stanzas together and to move easily into his next thought. what qualities are associated with this darkness. fulfilling. song. the preceding imagery in the stanza is abstract. In choosing Poesy. in contrast to the heart. why is despair "leaden-eyed" (line 8)? Stanza IV. empty. and in line 3 he announces he is going to use "the viewless wings of Poesy" to join a fantasy bird. Does he still perceive the real world as a world of joy-pain? Does thinking of the human condition intensify. the green countryside. death is present. or on some something else? He contrasts this mode of experience (poetry) to the "dull brain" that "perplexes and retards" (line 4). on poetry and imagination. since Flora. he succeeds or seems to succeed in joining the bird. The imagined world described in the rest of the stanza is dark.imagery. etc. By implication. what words hint of death? Do these hints help to prepare for stanza VI? Was death anticipated in stanza I by the vague suggestions in the
. Characterize the real world which the poet describes. His awareness of the real world pulls him back from the imagined world of drink-joy. and happpines Stanza III. attractive. safe. Because the poet cannot see in the darkness. is it frightening. Does it capture the action of sparkling wine? What sounds are repeated? What is the effect of this alliteration? Do any of the sounds duplicate the bubbles breaking? Say the words and notice the action of your lips. what way of approaching life does this line reject? What kinds of activities is the brain often associated with.g. sensuous. diminish. e. are being experienced by Keats through drinking wine in his imagination. is he calling on analytical or scientific reasoning." He turns to fantasy again. Can you see the difference? Does the wine resemble the nightingale in being associated with summer. on sensuality.
The mixed nature of reality and its transience are suggested by the contrasting phrases "fast-fading violets" and "the coming musk-rose. has not yet bloomed). autumn brings fulfillment. what are the emotional effects of or associations with "high requiem" and "sod"? Why does Keats now hear the bird's song as a requiem? (He heard the bird's song very differently earlier in the poem." "drowsy numbness. because the bird has clearly become a symbol for the poet." "poisonous. and the beginning of decay which becomes death in winter)? Why might Keats leap to thoughts of the summer to come? Stanza VI. Interpreting the line literally may be a misreading. consider alternate interpretations. rather it means non-existence. what changes occur between spring and summer? how do they differ (as. this bird will die. The nightingale is characterized as wholly blissful--"full-throated ease" in stanza I and "pouring forth thy soul abroad / In such an ecstasy!" (lines 7-8). a state which he imagines as only joyful. which is immortal? Or is the bird the visionary or imaginative realm which inspires poets? Or does the bird's song symbolize poetry and has the passion of the song/poem carried the listening poet away?
. for instance." and "shadowy darkness"? The season is spring (the musk rose." In the progression of the seasons. the inability to feel the bird's ecstasy. Keats yearns to die." Does the bird symbolize ideal beauty. Nevertheless. Keats moves from his awareness of his own mortality in the preceding stanza to the perception of the bird's immortality. like "the bird is a symbol of the continuity of nature" or like "the bird represents the continuing presence of joy in life"? In such a reading. "hungry generations. the poet begins to distance himself from the nightingale. which is a mid-May flower. the poet no longer identifies with the bird. harvest. Is there any suggestion of the bird's dying or experiencing anything but bliss? Note the contrast between the bird's singing and the poet's hearing that song. He realizes what death means for him. the poet contrasts the bird's immortality (and continuing joyful song) with the condition of human beings. Before you make this judgment. which he joined in imagination in stanzas IV and V. death is not release from pain. In Stanza VI.words "Lethe. see his chracterization of the bird as immortal as a flaw. and to merge with the bird's song. Stanza VII. as pain-free. On a literal level. his perception is wrong." In the last two lines. Some readers." "hemlock." and in this stanza he refers to the murmur of flies "on summer eves.
Is he saying that the bird he is now hearing is immortal? or is he saying something else. including very perceptive ones.) Might the word "still" have more than one meaning here? Is there any irony in Keats's using the same word to describe both the nightingale and death--the bird sings with "full-throated ease" at the end of stanza I and death is "easeful" (line 2 of this stanza)? Click here for vocabulary and allusions in stanza VI. Keats speaks of summer: in stanza one he introduces the nightingale singing "of summer.
The poet contrasts the bird's singing and immunity from death and suffering with human beings. ending with a non-human past and place ("faery lands"). however transitory it--and we--may be. in which no human being is present. like the nightingale. the poet says that "fancy" (imagination) has cheated him. In the third image. or does the phrase have an additional meaning? It is the last of the death images running through the poem. has returned to the real world. the first reference to emperor and clown is general and presumably in a historical past. The resulting ability to observe nature gives us the ability to appreciate the beauty of nature. what is the effect of "generations"? The stanza begins in the poet's present (note the present tense verbs tread and hear in lines 2 and 3). The poet. the other from fairy tales. These words hint at the pain the poet recognized in the beginning of the poem and is trying to escape. Is the change in the bird. who or what is now forlorn? Is the poet identified with or separate from the nightingale? In lines 2 and 3. "hungry generations. the poet wonders whether he has had a true insight or experience (vision) or whether he has been daydreaming. or in both? Is Keats's description of the bird's voice as "buried deep" a reference only to its physical distance. it doesn't know it's going to die? An implication of this reading is that the bird is integrated into nature or is part of natural processes whereas we are separated from nature. The bird flies away to another spot to sing. as has the "elf" (bird). The poet repeats the word "forlorn" from the end of stanza VII. Stanza VIII. Is he questioning the validity of the experience
. With the last two lines. one from the Old Testament. the other two are specific." What is he saying about the human experience with "hungry"? If you think in terms of the passage of time. What allusion in the preceding stanza does the word "elf" suggest? What delusion is the poet awakening from? The bird has ceased to be a symbol and is again the actual bird the poet heard in stanza I. the "charm'd magic casements" of fairy are "forlorn" and the seas are "perilous. Is Keats trying to limit the meaning of the bird's song with these images or to extend its meaning? What ideas or aspects of human life do these references represent? The mixed nature of reality manifests itself in his imagining the nightingale's joyous song being heard by in the past in the series of three images." "Forlorn" and "perilous" would not ordinarily be associated with magic/enchantment. Does bringing up the idea of pain prepare us or help to prepare us for the final stanza? Click here for vocabulary and allusions in stanza VII . which by continuing generation after generation does achieve a kind of immortality as a species? Is the nightingale not born for death in the sense that. The bird's song becomes a "plaintive anthem" and fainter. in the poet. Is the reference to the emperor and clown positive or neutral? The story of Ruth is unhappy (what words indicate her pain?). Keats then makes three references to the bird's singing in the past. The past becomes more remote. unlike us human beings.• • •
Has the actual bird been transformed into a myth? Does this one bird represent the species.
verdurous: green. Line 4. fays: fairies. Line 4. Poesy: poetry in general or. David is one of her descendents. despairing. Line 3. sacred song. The life of the dreamer in "La Belle Dame sans Merci" has been destroyed. A book in the Bible is named after her. resigned. has his life been improved in any way? has he been damaged in any way? (The effect of the dream on the dreamer is a thread that runs throgh Keats's poems. Hippocrene: a spring sacred to the Muses. such as epic poetry. hemlock: a poison made from an herb or a poisonous drink made from that herb. Stanza V Line 3. Line 7. like mountains and rivers. and there is a question about the impact of dreaming on Madeline in "The Eve of St. Dryad: a wood nymph or nymph of the trees. an area in the south of France associated with song. haply: perhaps. depending n how you read this ode.a specific kind of poetry: visionary poetry poetry or fantasy. Stanza VII Line 6. located on Mt. or is he expressing the inability to maintain an intense. by chance. Ruth: Boaz saw Ruth. She is frequently alluded to by poets for her devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi or as a stranger in a strange land.the poem describes. and luxury. or is it a true. they were young. In a sense she has achieved immortality. embalmed: (1) fragrant. excited. happy. Line 7. corn: grain. Provencal: of Provence. darkling: in the dark. Is his experience a false vision. casements: windows. if transitory experience of and insight into the nature of reality? Has the dreamer in this poem changed as a result of his visionary experience? For instance. fell in love with her and married her. Line 10. and dancing. accepting?
Vocabulary and Allusions
Stanza I Line 2.) What does the tone of the ending seem to you. hopeful. (2) preserved body. long-lived and liked music and dance. which drew Bacchus's chariot. Line 6. Is Keats using both meanings here to suggest the inextricably mixed nature of life? Stanza VI Line 1. Agnes. the imaginative experience is by its nature transient or brief. the Moabite. often wheat. beautiful. (The nine muses were associated with different arts.g. pards: leopards. in British usage. e. requiem: song or musical service for the repose of the dead. Line 6. viewless: invisible. Flora: goddess of flowers and fertility..) Stanza IV Line 2. sad.Helicon. Drinking its waters inspired poets. Bacchus: Roman god of wine. true vision? Of course. depressed. Stanza II Line 3. working in the fields. Lethe: a river in Hades (the underworld). Souls about to be reincarnated drank from it to forget their past lives. Line 10. pleasure. Dryads or nymphs were female personifications of natural features. A Dryad was connected to a specific tree and died when the tree died. Line 7.
. Line 9.
Both meanings carry with them intense feelings and high seriousness. Which meaning do you think Keats intends? Does one fit better with requiem? Can both meanings be meant or suggested?
The speaker opens with a declaration of his own heartache. but through poetry. In the second stanza.
. (2) a sacred choral song generally based on words from the Bible. “a draught of vintage. the word forlorn tolls like a bell to restore the speaker from his preoccupation with the nightingale and back into himself. the speaker says that he cannot see the flowers in the glade. In the seventh stanza.” In the sixth stanza. and he will follow. he says. and spectrethin. “the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves. or a waking dream. except the light that breaks through when the breezes blow the branches. Surrounded by the nightingale’s song. and the fret” of human life. and let him “leave the world unseen” and disappear into the dim forest with the nightingale. expressing his wish for wine. the speaker longs for the oblivion of alcohol.” Now that the music is gone. the nightingale would continue to sing. Youth “grows pale. but rather from sharing it too completely.” In the eighth stanza. or devotion. In the third stanza. saying he would like to forget the troubles the nightingale has never known: “the weariness. the speaker thinks that the idea of death seems richer than ever. the fever. the speaker tells the nightingale to fly away. he is “too happy” that the nightingale sings the music of summer from amid some unseen plot of green trees and shadows.” He says that the voice he hears singing has always been heard. by ancient emperors and clowns. he even says the song has often charmed open magic windows looking out over “the foam / Of perilous seas. by homesick Ruth. but can guess them “in embalmed darkness”: white hawthorne.” and “beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes. plaintive: expressing sadness. and dies.” that would taste like the country and like peasant dances. as though he had taken a drug only a moment ago.” He says he is already with the nightingale and describes the forest glade. in faery lands forlorn.” In the fourth stanza. the speaker tells the nightingale that it is immortal. As the nightingale flies farther away from him. but he would “have ears in vain” and be no longer able to hear. he laments that his imagination has failed him and says that he can no longer recall whether the nightingale’s music was “a vision. that it was not “born for death. If he were to die. which will give him “viewless wings. where even the moonlight is hidden by the trees. not through alcohol (“Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards”). the speaker cannot recall whether he himself is awake or asleep. he explains his desire to fade away. with its consciousness that everything is mortal and nothing lasts. In the fifth stanza. and the musk-rose.Stanza VIII Line 5. and he longs to “cease upon the midnight with no pain” while the nightingale pours its soul ecstatically forth. He is addressing a nightingale he hears singing somewhere in the forest and says that his “drowsy numbness” is not from envy of the nightingale’s happiness. patriotism. eglantine. the speaker listens in the dark to the nightingale. violets. anthem: (1)a hymn of joy or praise. saying that he has often been “half in love” with the idea of dying and called Death soft names in many rhymes. He feels numb.
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. “Nightingale” also differs from the other odes in that its rhyme scheme is the same in every stanza (every other ode varies the order of rhyme in the final three or four lines except “To Psyche. sensually rich though it is.” In the later poem. the speaker’s language.” The rapture of poetic inspiration matches the endless creative rapture of the nightingale’s music and lets the speaker.” the speaker rejected all artistic effort. existing only in a perpetual present. 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. The ecstatic music even encourages the speaker to embrace the idea of dying. unable to remember whether he is awake or asleep. the transience of life and the tragedy of old age (“where palsy shakes a few. / Where youth grows pale.” which is in many ways a companion poem to “Ode to a Nightingale. In this ode.” which has the loosest structure of all the odes). Each stanza in “Nightingale” is rhymed ABABCDECDE. In “Psyche. it is music without record. But in the nightingale’s song.Form
Like most of the other odes. However. sad. but he “cannot see what flowers” are at his feet. serves to suppress the sense of sight in favor of the other senses. imagine himself with the bird in the darkened forest.” Keats’s speaker begins his fullest and deepest exploration of the themes of creative expression and the mortality of human life. the speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. and this is the discovery that compels him to embrace Poesy’s “viewless wings” at last. His first thought is to reach the bird’s state through alcohol—in the second stanza. immortal bird!”). Keats’s most basic scheme throughout the odes. deceiving elf”). The speaker reprises the “drowsy numbness” he experienced in “Ode on Indolence. it is metrically variable—though not so much as “Ode to Psyche. As befits his celebration of music.” he was willing to embrace the creative imagination.” as the speaker tells the nightingale. of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the nightingale’s music and never experiencing any further pain or disappointment. This suppression will find its match in “Ode on a Grecian Urn. the intensity of the speaker’s experience has left him shaken.
With “Ode to a Nightingale. last gray hairs. for the first time since he refused to follow the figures in “Indolence. with only three accented syllables instead of five.” The first seven and last two lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter. “But here there is no light”. but only for its own internal pleasures. In “Indolence.” he comes back to himself. and dies”) is set against the eternal renewal of the nightingale’s fluid music (“Thou wast not born for death. he finds a form of outward expression that translates the work of the imagination into the outside world. he knows he is surrounded by flowers. the eighth line of each stanza is written in trimeter. Hearing the song of the nightingale. unlike most of the other poems. and spectre-thin. “Ode to a Nightingale” is written in ten-line stanzas. the speaker will finally confront a created art-object
. in stanzas five through seven. The “art” of the nightingale is endlessly changeable and renewable.” “the viewless wings of Poesy. he longs for a “draught of vintage” to transport him out of himself. in “Nightingale” it is a sign of too full a connection: “being too happy in thine happiness. But after his meditation in the third stanza on the transience of life. As the nightingale flies away.” but where in “Indolence” that numbness was a sign of disconnection from experience. But when his meditation causes him to utter the word “forlorn. He can imagine the light of the moon.
in Keats' handwriting. Keats did not record these few hours in "Ode to a Nightingale. He acknowledges. Reynolds. and the first thirty lines written continuously without stanza divisions" (Stillinger 651).” he has achieved creative expression and has placed his faith in it. not in a plum-tree. not some character in a dramatic monologue manipulated by a poet who stays outside his created world. With his assistance I succeeded. and even implication have no place here. Commentary by Ian Lancashire (2002/9/9) Between the first three words of "Ode to a Nightingale. is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Afterwards." and its last. His own brother Tom.. where he sat for two or three hours. the bird sings "in some melodious plot / Of beechen green" (8-9). contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale. not spring. The only surviving draft of the ode. the ageless beauty of its unintelligible song. a poem which has been the delight of every one. Keats leaves his "sole self" (72) to join with the nightingale in verse that briefly realizes. The morning
." "My heart aches. "forlorn" (71-74). dying of consumption at this time. 50). and spectre-thin. The "I" who speaks eight times in this perfect eight-stanza lyric is Keats himself. When he came into the house. It appears on two half-sheets and has "an uncancelled rejected beginning . Perhaps this manuscript. The writing was not well legible. 17 years later. and dies" (26). the aged shaking from palsy." John Keats describes a brief personal escape from an existence whose suffering he can no longer endure. During his training as a medical practitioner." In the poem. 56). and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books. irony. Keats' friend Charles Brown recollected. represents a later stage of the poem than what Brown saw on four or five "scraps. not a surrogate persona. which Keats gave to his friend J. Keats' letters show that he certainly believed the poet possessed "negative capability. in “Nightingale. but biography does. not a morning after breakfast. Brown recalls the earliest stage of composition. "sleep. Yet it is Keats who does so. in May 1819. The time is "night" or "midnight" (35. in human language. Keats took "his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under the plum-tree" near Brown's house and sat under it "for two or three hours. but that expression—the nightingale’s song—is spontaneous and without physical manifestation. flying up to the bird "on the viewless wings of Poesy" (33) and only returning to himself when his "fancy" fails. four or five in number. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song. and it was difficult to arrange the stanzas on so many scraps." the self-nullifying power to enter other things and speak as and for them." taking pleasure in the song of a nightingale that "had built her nest" there. how Keats wrote this ode. Ambiguity. and this was his 'Ode to a Nightingale'.not subject to any of the limitations of time. Keats saw drugs like opium (3) and wine (11) deaden the pain of feverishly ill men. On inquiry. not the living reader.. its spell broken by a word. H. Keats returned to the house with some "scraps" on which he had been writing the ode. for this reason. I found those scraps. True enough. I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand." Whatever the textual history may be (and we are unlikely to know much more). In the spring of 1818 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Cambridge. Keats' imagination transmutes what he experiences under the plum-tree. and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under the plum-tree. "Ode to a Nightingale" depicts one such experience. The season is summer (10. and the consumptive young (23-26). lingers on in "Where youth grows pale.
He becomes conscious of what he has experienced as. Both out-of-body and near-death experiences. "Now more than ever seems it rich to die" (55). after the event. and experiencing it.. Experiencing itself being divided into two. Keats then wishes to drink deeply of red wine so that he could "fade away" (20-21). sometimes by drugs. an out-of-body experience. Coleridge did so in his lyric. Keats describes his experience as a somatoform (bodily) dissociation. when the mind returns to the body. Afterwards. the self may feel itself near death. the person recalls his experience. Keats recognizes this when he asks. Lethe. perhaps. or a waking dream? / . A typical OBE begins when sensory input is disrupted. At poem's end. Anyone can meditate. or having a dissociated double.. available to a very large percentage of the population. becoming "a sod" (60). under a plum-tree one morning near his house. which makes humanity forget what it was like to have lived. in what we now call lucid (or wide-awake) dreaming.in his chair under the plum-tree stimulated the experience described by the poem. leaving the suffering world for the nightingale's joyful song. be but Nature there. not as a dream during REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep. however. the descent of a double to its abandoned self. During a critical illness. No waste so vacant. Others might call it a "near-death" experience. He has had a disorienting. or what parapsychologists term an OBE. it would not be recognized or named for more than a century. a bird's-eye perspective among the tree-tops. high among the leaves of a forest of trees." that is. "Ode to a Nightingale" opens when Keats acknowledges feeling "a drowsy numbness" that he associates with having taken drugs like hemlock or opium.. The mind then feels itself float upwards out of the body to a height that has been termed "bird's-eye" or tree-high. "The Lime-tree Bower my Prison": . One moment. such as a heart attack. "a waking dream" (79). or with drinking from the classical river. Imagination ends the experience it initiated. and then suddenly he was back alone. He imagines himself desiring death. which "perplexes and retards" (34).. if Brown remembers truly. one fine. What transports him. Despite the physical brain. but may well employ
. Samuel T." Keats comes "back" to his "sole self. lacking sight and smell. and a sense of having had a vivid dream. "Was it a vision. about escaping from the harsh world of humanity into the countryside and its healing natural beauty. are widely documented by those who had them and by other observers. Henceforth I shall know That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure. He imagines the moon's bright light blown through "winding mossy ways" (40) but arrives in utter darkness. a flight upwards of a double mind through dark "ways" illuminated by a great light. the self may appear to rise out of the dying body and to rush down a tunnel towards a light. Many facets of an OBE are here: drug-associated sensory deprivation. is the imagination. but as vivid or wide-awake dreaming. transcendental experience. neither does Keats appear to invent this dissociative event or to copy it from other poets. Often the ascent may seem like travelling through a tunnel towards a bright light. At the word "forlorn. sightless in a pitch-black midnight. the moon. No plot so narrow. Keats did not write "Ode to a Nightingale" as testimony about an "out-of-body experience". he was listening to the nightingale's "ecstasy". a neardeath experience. Do I wake or sleep?" (79-80). his mind enables him to "fly" up to the nightingale in the trees. warm morning. the self left alone by its flying double. On the other hand. only returning to the body when its trauma ceases. In retrospect.
cf. In the event's aftermath. so the voice of Keats' nightingale was "immortal. Some readers believe that Keats drew from Coleridge here. like Keats at the start. "plaintive" (75). of himself and his senses. Keats echoes Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper" in the last stanza." leave her standing "in tears amid the alien corn" (65-67)? She was not.. but Wordsworth does not allude to any dissociative experience. a world "with no pain" (56). the self below. / Long after it was heard no more" (31-32). For the rest." unheard "music. Only by being in two worlds at once. once the speaker had climbed the hill." "anthem. He imitates it with astonishingly resonant lines like "Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways" (40)." opiate Coleridge remained fully possessed. but despite "lift[ing] the soul. but with little sensory recall. "too happy in thine happiness" (6). such "plaintive numbers" (18. its double above. It is." and "music" only hint at the nightingale's soul-pouring "ecstasy" (58). Although their ways to beauty are different." heard in "ancient days" and Biblical history as in contemporary England. and "The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves" (50). he recreates the experience "on the viewless wings of Poesy" (33). using all his craft's resources. Keats' last six lines owe much more to Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper. remained in his mind as "music . Keats must describe the bird-song "of summer" (10) by depicting what he knows." Wordsworth described the valley maiden singing. sorrowful. Why else did the song that "found a path / Through the sad heart of Ruth . That we may lift the soul. in a strange language as "No Nightingale did ever chaunt" (9). its hearers over the centuries. The "tender" night (35) and "embalmed darkness" (43) disable his sight and leave him guessing at fragrances. and contemplate With lively joy the joys we cannot share. To recreate the nightingale's song. Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" springs from a poet's personal life-changing. mind-wrenching experience of a timeless paradise. Quintessentially. that is. and keep the heart Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes 'Tis well to be bereft of promis'd good. Simple words like "song. their experiences are one. Both poets cluster "plaintive... strong evidence for influence. For this reason. at heart." and "valley" in the context of a nightingale's song. sick for home.Each faculty of sense.. can we know the song's essential beauty. As the reaper's song "could have no ending" (26). we know the nightingale's song truly only when we are aware that we cannot keep it for long." "hill-side." "voice. Only someone who has spent days tending the terminally ill can understand with what depth Keats longs for this respite.
. we must listen in the context of human suffering. Keats' "plaintive anthem") that. in sunlight.