Ode to a Nightingale
One must be armed with a little knowledge of Greek mythology before taking on Keats; Hyperion, for example, is filled with allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost. After reading and re-reading Ode on a Grecian Urn I decided that it would be best to only comment on Ode to a Nightingale (because I’m baffled with Keats). I found him very hard to understand. You can’t just sit down and read Keats like a Grimm’s fairy tale. Keats must be read with great scrutiny; otherwise, you’ll miss his point. I only pray that my readings and poor mind will give some sort of justice to Keats’s monumental work: “Ode to a Nightingale.”
The poem begins with Keats’s, with his complaint about humanity. He is filled with “heartaches and a drowsy numbness pains” and a feeling of forgetfulness as if “hemlock I had drunk.” Life has brought him to a state of forgetfulness and is bewildered to find a “light-winged Dryad [Nightingale] of the trees” that is “being too happy in thine happiness” and singing “of summer in full throated ease.” Keats would love to join the song of the Nightingale but has no way except through death, but even death is painful. Keats doesn’t want any more pain that life has to offer so he talks about a “vintage [wine] that hath been Cool’d a long age. . . With beaded bubbles winking at the brim” and he hopes that he “might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim.” With the wine Keats hopes to “Fade far away. . . [from] The weariness, the fever, and the fret” of life.
Man’s drink is his only escape from this life but then he writes that he doesn’t want to join nature and “fly to” the Nightingale “charioted by” wine but of poetic imagination. Because too much wine would bring pain in the morning and would only stop pain for a while. Once the drug has run its final course he would be in more pain then before. If only this world could fade away so that he could join the world of nature where he could be “too happy in thine happiness.” He wants to leave this world: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,” he wants to “Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget” everything. He’s tired of the pains that human nature has brought: “The weariness, the fever, and the fret . . . hear[ing] each other groan . . . full of sorrow” Keats hits human nature in the heart by taking away everything dear to it and focusing on the pains and heartaches. This poem makes you want to take a shower and go to bed.
He then writes about how he is “half in love with easeful Death” because it “seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou are pouring forth thy soul abroad In such ecstasy! Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vainTo thy high requiem become a sod.” He says the feathered Dryad “was not born for death, immortal Bird!” and wonders if the whole experience with the bird was a vision, dream or real. “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: Do I wake or sleep.” O.K. I’ve had enough, I can’t handle it anymore. I think I’ll end it all right now. Bang! (ouch… I missed) Now I’m in more pain than before, dang it!