“In many of his poems, Keats starts out from the familiar and everyday but quickly takes off into different territory.” In the light of this comment, explore Keats’s poetic methods in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.
The opening lines tell of how his senses are dulled, Keats draws on the effects of alcohol to liken this feeling to, “as though of hemlock I had drunk”, although crucial to help the reader understand his pain, Keats starts the poem with a very menial subject of dulled senses. “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense,” this first line is used by Keats to contrast the numbness with pain, as if the fact he feels nothing hurts him, this beginning is similar to Shakespearian plays where a character talks as if to himself/herself but the audience gains a lot intelligence of what they are feeling.
Keats is soon drawn away from his pains towards a “light-winged Dryad of the trees” by merely commenting on how happy this nightingale is, who “Singest of summer in full-throated ease” and pulls him out of this sleepy state. The second verse picks up pace as Keats becomes fully conscious and the line “O, for a draught of vintage!” is exclamatory as wine takes his fancy, the reader is allowed to follow his train of thought through the “country green, / Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!” The use of exclamation emphasises the pleasure his thoughts bring him and how he dreams of such a delicacy, “O for a beaker full of the warm South”. By the end of the second verse Keats wishes to be taken out of his pain again, “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,” to fade into his thoughts and with the nightingale into the forest. The repetition of “fade away” and “fade far away” links the second and third verse together emphasising the wish to forget the pain he feels, although it is only now Keats allows the reader to fully comprehend what he is desperate to fade from, “Here, where men sit and hear each other groan”, Keats wishes to avoid his fading youth, “Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes”, this is personification of beauty to show how beauty once had form but is now visibly dissolving away from his reality.
The forth verse begins “Away! away!” as a command to the nightingale, this conveys urgency to escape and hereon Keats takes off into different territory, he rarely refers back to the subject of his grief but flies off, “on the viewless wings of Poesy”. Here we see poetry being personified as blind as he tries to convey that he never knows where his poetry will take him. The mention of Bacchus, god of wine, links back to his wish to be drunk although Keats has found an alternative way to fulfil his wish. He uses the method of subtle links to keep with his reality while the reader is made to move with him into this woodland. Keats uses a lot of movement in his poems, from one place to another for example in ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ through the building as the reader follows a lover make his journey, this method requires a great deal of detail but is used effectively to move the poem forward without leaving the reader behind.
There is a scene built up by Keats which closely relates to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Shakespeare, of “Queen-Moon” and “all her starry Fays”, very typical imagery of nature. “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet”, brings in other senses of touch and smell, “soft incense”, in this forest to emphasise the lack of light, this “embalmed darkness” is often mentioned to keep us aware of the pain but the nature and delicacy of the imagery discourages a more sinister view, “Fast fading violets” although the word haunt is peculiar as it does bring an air of ghostliness to the poem in the line, “The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”
The darkness is than personified, a common theme throughout, to allow Keats to communicate with it as he does with death, “I have been half in love with easeful Death”, although to personify death is very common, the reader feels Keats trying to explain a strange affinity with it. The poem deepens and no frilly language is needed, “Now more than ever it seems rich to die,” the verse is very thought-provoking, Keats appears to dream of dying and losing the pain, time is given in this verse possibly to bring the closeness of then end to the reader. “In such an ecstasy!” gives a sense of release like a bird flying up into the sky, as the nightingale did and this links to the image of the nightingale which first took him off with ‘Poesy’.
The second to last verse describes the immortality of a nightingale’s song, “The voice I hear this passing night was heard / In ancient days by emperor and clown”, the importance of the emperor and clown signifies that the nightingale’s song is for everyone to hear and can touch the hearts of everyone that can, almost like magic, stir up places long forgotten in people’s minds. This and the last verse are again linked by one word, forlorn. Keats brings himself back to reality by saying “Adieu!” to the nightingale as the reality is that such an easy way out of life is through dreams, “the fancy cannot cheat so well”, repetition of adieu makes this final and he forces the image of the nightingale from his mind. The poem is ended with two questions, “Was it a vision or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:-Do I wake or sleep?” simple, short and used to lighten the mood of the poem. These last two lines again link with the first few verses when the poet lays between awake and asleep.
Keats gives the nightingale the recognition it deserves and muses on his own life at the same time, this is all erratically placed without much care for structure in the poem but linking subjects and thoughts throughout the poem keeps it together. The detail and rich language is left out of the lines with serious connotations but as Keats’s mind wanders there is some capturing description and imagery included using onomatopoeia to create a soothing effect and monosyllabic commands to emphasise immediacy.