Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale Summary and Main Themes

  • It was the famous Romantic poet John Keats who composed the popular poem Ode to a Nightingale which is the longest ode among his other odes such as Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode on Indolence, Ode on Melancholy, and Ode to Psyche.
  • Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the spring of 1819 (at Wentworth Palace Hempstead; when he was there with his friend Charles Brown) and first published in Annals of Fine Arts
  •  The focus of Ode to a Nightingale is on its speaker (I) Standing in a dark forest, (II) Listening to the beguiling as well as beautiful/heart touching song of the nightingale
  • It provokes a: (I) Deep, as well as (II) Meandering meditation by him (speaker) on (a) Time (b) Death (c) Nature (d) Beauty, as well as (e) Human difficulty/suffering (it is something that the speaker would like to avoid or escape)
  • The song of the above-mentioned bird, at times, provides the speaker relief/comfort. Moreover, at one point (in time) he is also hopeful/believes that poetry will bring him metaphorically closer to this bird
  • Anyway, the speaker, at the end of the poem appears to be a deserted or isolated figure. Because the bird flies away whereas he (speaker) is not sure if this whole experience has been “a vision” or a “ waking dream“.

As we know that for John Keats, the inspiration to write Ode to a Nightingale came from the nightingale. This bird had built its nest near its house of Keats. Once, the poet goes to the garden in order to sit there for some time. He hears the nightingale’s sweet song which affects him very much. The song of the bird makes him extremely happy. 

Consequently, John Keats writes Ode to a Nightingale (I) sitting under a plum tree, while (II) hearing the nightingale’s beautiful song. In this way, the poet/speaker of the poem also expresses his emotions when he hears the song of this bird. In fact, the poem shows/reveals the beauty of the nightingale’s song that represents: (I) a World of Perfect Beauty, as well as (II) Extreme Happiness or Joy.

John Keats, in his poem Ode to a Nightingale, regards the world of this bird as an (I) Ideal, as well as (II) Perfect one (means, world). The poet desires to reach there with the help of the wine. Moreover, he is also curious to reach in the world of the bird through his powerful imagination because he is a poet. 

The poet/speaker of Ode to a Nightingale also wants to drink the water of the river of forgetfulness in order to reach in the nightingale’s world after forgetting his real world. He becomes quite happy when he sees that bird is (already) happy.

John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale is known for its richness in sensuous imagination. Its diction is (I) Sublime, as well as (II) Sweet. Moreover, the poem is a fine example of Keats’ use of (I) Picturesqueness (II) Hellenism, and (III) Romantic poetry.

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,
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.

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.

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.

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, 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?

 Major Themes of Ode to a Nightingale by 

John Keats incorporates or introduces many themes in his poem Ode to a Nightingale, such as (I) Death (II) Immortality (III) Mortality, as well as (IV) Poetic Imagination. According to the poet, death is an inevitable phenomenon. He paints it not only in a negative way but in a positive way as well. If the presence of death sucks the human spirit, it presence provides the realm of free eternity as well. 


Moreover, John Keats through his marvelous poem Ode to a Nightingale introduces the nightingale’s life as well as sweet/beautiful song in juxtaposition. The poet is of the opinion that life is mortal. But, this bird’s song is immortal that has been a source of enjoyment for centuries as well as will stay so even after his (poet’s) death.

It is notable that he keeps (himself) engaged in a nice or beautiful as well as charming/glorious world of imagination, but he will not be capable of staying there for good. That is why he considers pushing imagination as a short source of peace.

Ques: What kind of poem is Ode to a Nightingale ?

Ans: Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats is a personal poem. It describes the poet’s journey into the state of negative capability.

Ques: How does the poem Ode to a Nightingale end ?

Ans: Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats ends with an acceptance that happiness or pleasure can not last as well as that death is an unavoidable part of life.

Ques: What is the significance of Imagery or images in John Keats’ poem Ode to a Nightingale ?

Ans: The students of literature/poetry know very well that the use of imagery enables a reader to visualize: (I) the Feelings (II) Emotions, or (III) Ideas of the writer. John Keats also uses images or imagery in order to present a clear as well as lively picture of his miserable plight; the examples are here from his poem Ode to a Nightingale:
(I) “Thought of hemlock I had drunk”
(II) “Past the near meadows”

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