Ode to Nightingale Critical Summary: This romantic poem was written by John Keats. He is a wonderful romantic. He seeks beauty wherever he may find it. For him, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” no matter how short lived it might be. Keats happens to listen to the song of a nightingale in the woods. He follows the sound of the bird. The song has a magical effect on the poet. He cannot but remember the song and its beauty.
The poem is a fine example of “negative capability” of the poet, the ability to experience phenomena free from the bounds of “theory of knowledge” or presupposed conceptions and beliefs. Like a true romantic, Keats attaches all his emotions to the song of the nightingale. The poem lists the themes of nature, transience, beauty and mortality. The nightingale is “not born for death” whereas the poet, man, is incapable of living through like the bird. Death approaches as an inevitable climax in the overall scheme of nature.
Keats’ “heart aches” and he feels he has drunk “hemlock” or “opiate” and sunk into the “Lethe”, a mythological river of forgetfulness. Such is the result of overhearing to the song of a nightingale. The poet is neither jealous nor uneasy at the song of the “happy bird”. The poet has forgotten his identity, his self and is “too happy in thine happiness”. The nightingale is spreading the joys of spring by singing welcome notes to the season of life and beauty.
The song of the bird is so delighting that the poet is captivated by its alluring music. Keats feels intoxicated with the song. The poet assimilates the song of nightingale and the related intoxication to a “draught of vintage” cooled for a long time and could taste of Flora, the mythical goddess of flowers known for its dances and the associated mirth. Keats, being a Hellenistic, wishes for a beaker full of Southern wine “full of the true; the blushful Hippocrene”, “Blushful Hippocrene” means the red wine of Mount Helicon, sacred to the muses and a source of poetic inspiration. In other words the bird as well as the song is a source of creativity.
The escapist idealism forces the poet to leave the painful realism and enter into ideal life of nightingale. The poet wants to disappear with the joyous nightingale. He wishes to “fade far away, dissolve and quite forget” the human miseries and pains; the nightingale has never tasted of such “weariness” and sings. The poet and his fellow humans groan because human happiness is not permanent: some are paralyzed with old age and others lose childhood to youth. No joy is everlasting in the life of man. For man beauty is not forever. “New love” cannot be attracted to “lustrous eyes” “beyond tomorrow” because human joy fades away.
The poet describes turns to the landscape which is somewhat dark. He “cannot see what flowers” are at his feet. He cannot even ascertain the different fragrances endowed by the summer season. The flowers of various species are about him that include “hawthorn”, “pastoral eglantine”, “fast fading violets” and “musk rose”. The poet has aptly presented graphic description of several of the perfume bearing flowers. These images add to the romantic appeal of the overall mood of the poem.
Captured by the alluring song of the nightingale, the poet listened to the song in sheer darkness. The poet relates that during his lifetime he has desired of death many a times. In order to attract death, the poet “called him soft names in many a mused rhyme” so that death may take along. But the poet feels :
“Now more than ever it seems rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,”