Analysis

Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn belong to a series of poems written by John Keats in 1819. Although both poems do not have a plot in common, they share, at least, a theme: the immortality of art vs. the ephemerality of human life. Therefore, what I will do in this essay is to compare and comment on both poems.

In Nightingale, Keats explores the concepts of imagination and art through the image of a nightingale in a forest. He starts saying that he has a headache and feels numb due to a drug he had taken (lines1 to 3). Then, the poet addresses the bird which is singing in the forest, claming he is not envious of its happiness but ‘happy in thine happiness’ (line 6). In the forth stanza, the poet desires that the nightingale flies away with the objective of following it. However, Keats claims that, this time, he will not use wine but poetry:

‘Away! Away! For I will fly to flee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,’


In the sixth stanza, we can see the only mention related to death. Being ‘half in love with easeful Death’, Keats says that he has cited its name several times in his poems (lines 52 and 53). Next, the idea of art appears as an immortal creation opposed to the mortality of Man. The poet states that, with the nightingale’s song, death seems more pleasant (limes 55 and 56). Nevertheless, he claims that if he died he would not be able to hear the song anymore, though this will continue through time:

‘Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain-
To thy high requiem become a sod.’


Finally, in following stanza, Keats begins saying directly to the bird that it is immortal, as well as its song, because it has been heard from ancient times not only ‘by emperors and clown’ but, maybe, also by Ruth (lines 61 to 67).
With regard to Grecian Urn, Keats observes in detail an urn which has three drawings. In the first stanza, Keats claims that the urn is a kind of historian (line 3) because each drawing has a story to tell. In the following stanza, the poet describes the second image of the urn where there is a piper whose melodies are more beautiful, than those made by real humans, because they do not change through time (lines 11 and 14), which is similar to what happens to the nightingale’s song that has survived during hundreds of years. By contrast, in the fifth stanza, as well as in Nightingale, men cannot escape from their worst enemy, time:

‘When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou (the urn) will remain…’


To summarise, according to Keats, the only object that can survive through time is art whether it is an urn or a melody, while Man is attached to his inevitable fate, death. Furthermore, we are able to observe that Keats, if we accept him as a speaker of both poems, is conscious that he will die some day together with his generation, as it is happened to Ruth and the ancient emperors.

References

Erika Wilson Cantariño - http://mural.uv.es/ewilcan/keatsodes

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