John Keats’s Poems Ode To Nightingale And When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be: A Study Of The Tone, Structure And Syntactical Structure
Close Reading of John Keats
“Ode to a Nightingale,” by John Keats, details a speaker in thought whilst observing a nightingale singing nearby. This is not the only time in which Keats writes from the perspective of a pondering speaker, such as in “When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be,” but “Ode to a Nightingale” separates itself from Keats’ other work by using a different tone, different syntactical structure, and metaphor.
“Ode to a Nightingale” opens with the speaker describing how his heart “aches” and that a “drowsy numbness pains” his whole being, as though he had drank a poison or “emptied some dull opiate” (Nightingale 1-3). The speaker is looking to express a sense of pain and dread within him, as if he had taken a drug that was meant to hurt him. The speaker is living in pain. Conversely, the speaker in “When I have Fears” is talking about fear. The speaker fears an early death; he wants to have “high piled books” that hold his words like “rich garners [holding] the full-ripen’d grain,”(Fears 3-4).
The difference in the two speakers is that the speaker in “When I have Fears” has some hope within him (intrinsically by his fear of an early death instead of acceptance of the possibility) to not die before writing what he sees himself capable of, while the speaker in “Nightingale” has completely succumbed to his feelings of dread, pain and heartache. Keal uses both speakers to portray a sense of despair within both poems, but the emphasis on pain in “Ode to a Nightingale” gives a point of contrast from “When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be’s” emphasis on fear.
Keats also uses structure to contrast his works. From a perspective standpoint, both poems are a look into the respective speaker’s thoughts, with the speaker intentionally unidentified. Being written “Ode to a Nightingale” features eight stanzas with 10 lines of poetry per stanza. ‘When I have Fears,” conversely, is a sonnet, containing 14 lines of poetry within one stanza. “Nightingale” features an AB, AB, CDE, CDE rhyming scheme for each stanza, while “When I have Fears” uses an AB, AB, CD, CD, EF, EF, GG scheme for the entire work. The varying lengths allow the respective poems to come into their own. When I have Fears” is more compact; the speaker describes his fear as if it were nothing new to him. “Nightingale” being much longer emphasizes the speaker observing an outside force that resonates within him in that moment, despite him also dwelling on personal issues.
The nightingale itself allows Keats to explore a desire within the speaker of “Ode to a Nightingale;” escape. The “light-winged Dryad of the trees” sings “of summer in full-throated ease.”(Nightingale 5-10). Its song acts as a reminder of summer, of “[the taste] of Flora,” “the country green,/ Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth”(Nightingale 13-14). The speaker wants “a beaker full of the warm South” and full of “the blushful Hippocrene,”(Nightingale 15-16), a fountain said to have waters that provide poetic inspiration. The world he envisions through the bird’s song provides a stark contrast to the world that he lives in. Living in the leaves, the nightingale has never known “the weariness, the fever,” or “the fret” that exist in the world of man. In this world, men “hear each other groan,” cerebral palsy“shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs” and “where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.”(Nightingale 24-26). The speaker sees dread in his life as a human, in which “to think is to be full of sorrow”(Nightingale 27). The nightingale’s song pulls the speaker away from his reality, showing him a world that he desires to live in as well, separated from his humanity.
The nightingale’s song allows Keats to explore an escape for the speaker. Presenting a world created by song; a world that seems far from reality. The fantasy that exists within the speaker’s thoughts in contrast with the pain and reality that he lives in only further pushes the poem’s larger idea on escape. The speaker says that he has been “half in love with easeful Death” and that he “call’d him soft names” to “take into the air [his] quiet breath”(Nightingale 52-53). Calling Death “soft names,” as if the speaker wants to allure death and have it take him away from the doom and despair he calls his life. He sees this moment as the perfect time for him “to cease upon the midnight with no pain” while the bird “[pours] forth thy soul…in such an ecstasy”(Nightingale 56-58). The speaker has accepted death for himself, but sees the bird for much more.
To the speaker, the nightingale “wast not born for death” and his voice “was heard/ In ancient days by emperor and clown” and had “charm’d magic casements…in faery lands forlorn”(Nightingale 61, 63-64, 69-70). The song of the bird represents escape, and the speaker imagines that others have lived in his position and also heard the nightingale’s song, specifically mentioning the story of Ruth, in which she leaves her husband for another man because of a famine. Keats, in alluding to Ruth through his speaker, addresses the notion of many people living in this state of dread and desire for escape from their painful realities.
The final stanza sees the speaker of “Nightingale” snapping back to reality. The word “forlorn” works to “toll [him] back” to “[his] sole self” and pull him away from the fantasy that the nightingale’s song had sent him to (Nightingale 71-72). He ends the poem confused; the bird’s song has faded away, and the speaker asks himself “Do I wake or sleep?”(Nightingale 80). He does not know whether the nightingale was real or an illusion, and he does not know whether he was dreaming or if he was awake while pondering about the bird. Fantasy and reality have been blurred for the speaker, and Keats capitalizes on this. In “When I have Fears,” Keats separates reality from the fears within the speaker, but in “Nightingale,” the speaker’s reality as he watches the bird and the fantasy that the bird’s song elicits is blended into one. In blending reality and fantasy, Keats makes the idea of escape less tangible. Despite the speaker seeming to have found a world of summer and warmth in the bird’s song, he ends the poem back at square one, except now unsure if he truly can escape the dread he lives in.
Ultimately, structural and thematic differences allow John Keats to distinguish “Ode to a Nightingale” from his other work “When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be,” and show a person in a bleak reality with no way to escape.
A Comparative Analysis of Ted Hughes’ Wind and Ode to the West Wind
A comparison of Ted Hughes’ Wind and Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind
The notion common to both Hughes’ and Shelley’s poems is that of the wind as a tremendous, uncontrollable force, and the need to reconnect humans with the natural world. There is a host of imagery in Hughes’ poem associating wind with strength and violence, for example ‘wind wielded blade-light’ gives rise to images of war and Anglo-Saxon weaponry. This is similar to Shelley’s description of the wind as a ‘chariot’, a link to imagery of powerful rulers or gods. Both poems are strongly linked to human senses and employ the wind as a regenerative tool; in Shelley’s poem the west wind is personified through driving the dead leaves ‘like ghosts from an enchanter fleeting’.
‘Ode to the West Wind’ is a lyric poem that combines the connotations of lyric and ode; a presentation of intense emotive qualities and the use of elevated language to address a subject. In the first section of the ode, the poet outlines the relative ‘powers’ of the west wind, addressing the wind’s authority over the sky, land and sea in the first three stanzas, and establishing the wind as both “Destroyer and Preserver”. Whilst the wind preserves the regularity of the seasonal cycle, convoluted logic is presented through creating a parallel between life and death, shown by the way in which the wind scatters dead leaves across the floor of the forest, leaving them to eventually take root and bring new life. In a similar style, the opening line of Hughes’ poem is highly sensory, exposing time, surroundings and distance to the reader in the phrase ‘far out at sea all night’. This use of metaphor implies total isolation; ‘out at sea’ portrays an image of the house surviving constant battering from the inexhaustible wind as a boat might from waves, whilst the portrayal of time in ‘all night’ implies that the power of the wind so intense that it feels prolonged over a long time scale. Futility is paired with isolation; the alliteration of ‘blinding’ and ‘black’ generate strong emphasis on the individual words and heighten sensory awareness in the reader whilst remaining in keeping with the poem’s thematic material. This is shown in the image of the house ‘floundering’ hopelessly.
The idea of life cycles extends to humanity as a whole, as indicated in Shelley’s poem by the different colours of the leaves, ‘Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red’. The line ‘each like a corpse within its grave’ supports ideas of multiculturalism, as the varying colours of the leaves could be read as symbols of the widespread deaths of humanity across a wide range of ethnicities. The falling leaves are personified to become the ‘multitudes’ of people across the globe who suffer illness, and emphasize the role all humanity takes in the cycle of life and death. It is also significant to note that the rhyme scheme here is highly regular and exemplifies the need for continual movement. This is shown by Shelley’s decision to place a grave accent over the letter E in ‘wingèd’, resulting in the word being pronounced with two syllables, the first stressed and the second unstressed, in order to remain in keeping with the pre-established iambic pentameter metric scheme. This implies that regularity in daily life is the only way humans could survive unruly and external forces, such as the west wind. Furthermore, in the second stanza, another cycle is established as the wind assists the clouds in shedding: ‘…loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed.’ The rain contributes to the regenerative cycle of nature as the dead foliage just as the trees brought new life in the forest by dropping dead foliage.
Hughes’ second stanza takes on the role of a witness to the magnitude of legacy that the wind will ultimately leave, shown in ‘…the hills had new places.’ The potency of the wind is immediately extended with the introduction of a character in the third stanza, with the person being forced to ‘scale’ rather than walk due to the power of the wind, implying a highly personal experience of pain induced by the wind itself. Similarly, Shelley establishes leaves as symbolic of the words he wrote, requesting that the wind should scatter his ‘words among mankind’. Aside from the obvious dual connection between leaves found both on trees and in books, Shelley wrote in his book, A Defence of Poetry, that the mind is ‘a fading coal…like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness’ . This relates directly to the request for the wind to scatter words across humanity, with the idea of a ‘fading coal’ echoing the need to re-ignite the embers that are Shelley’s words. In conclusion, the final measure of the power of both Shelley’s and Hughes’ ‘wind’, is the extent to which it had changed the environment that previously thrived on regularity and permanence.
John Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale; Analyzing The Third Structure
“Ode to a Nightingale” Analysis
The third stanza of John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is one of particular significance. The poem is one that praises a nightingale that had built a nest outside of Charles Brown’s estate in Hampstead. The bird symbolizes nature, a thing of beauty and purity, that is juxtaposed by its antithesis of humanity. These lines are written to describe the woes of manhood and humanity in opposition to the goodness that is the nightingale.
The stanza starts with the voice of the poem speaking dreamily about fading far away “21” and wanting to dissolve “21”. He speaks of fully forgetting “what thou among the leaves hast never known” “21.” This aura of mystery is a bit of a cliche in literature, think “he who must not be named” or “the love that dare not speak its name.” The voice of the poem speaks about humanity in a way that wishes to protect the innocence of nature from the knowledge of what it is. The choice to frame mankind in this way could be a way of temporarily reversing the fact that it is too late to truly save nature from mankind’s influence, i.e. civilization, industrialization, etc.
In the next line, Keats utilizes the rule of three to associate words of disease with human nature, like “weariness” “fever” and “fret” “23.” He provides the imagery of men sitting and hearing each other groaning “24”, sitting for they are unable to do anything about the fact that the life of man in an unnatural world comes with its share of woes and trials that all must suffer, albeit unnecessarily, according to romantic era critics, who sees the contemporary structure of their lives to be bad for both the nature it was destroying and the men who created it. After two lines of describing illness and death to both those who are old and young “25 and 26,” the voice of the poem makes the statement that “but to think is to be full of sorrow” “27.” Truly it is a drastic claim to say that one of the most basic functions of a human, to think, brings nothing but misery.
This line could either be expressing two things. The first possibility is that this line is a hyperbole used to indicate the fact that the sorrow that humanity brings is inescapable both by men and nature. The second possibility is that this thinking, an action usually seen as exclusively human, is not simply something basic that brings sorrow on top of everything else, but is something that the voice, a romantic, does and subsequently brings its own special form of sorrow. The romantic poet could easily be lamenting on their own insight into the tragedy of their situation. It could very well be that the poet seems that their radical romantic vision is as much of a burden as it is a gift, since they are surrounded by others who either do not share their ideas or are not aware of the flaws man has created on the earth. Knowledge is pain as much, if more, as it is power to the romantic poet.
Towards the very end of the poem, Keats stops speaking about humanity and mentions “Beauty” “29” in the personified image of a female, mentioning “her eyes” “29.” Beauty is immediately described as being close to but separate from humanity. The poem’s voice claims that she can’t look at the mess that is mankind, and must, subsequently, be turning away, physically disassociating itself from humanity by ignoring it, although it is technically close enough in position to see it in the first place.
Keats would be disagreeing with Burke in his poem, claiming that humanity is not something that is beautiful, and is rejected by “Beauty” herself. He backs this philosophy up with the imagery of sickness and lamenting, pitiful tone he gives to his stanza on manhood in the middle of a poem of praise to a pure creature of nature. It is clear that, in order to truly describe the beauty of nature, Keates needed to take stanza 3 to describe the ugliness that surrounded it.