Escaping reality in Keats Poem Ode to a Nightingale


“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all”

Ode to a Nightingale is a famous poem written in the form of an ode; lyrical poem structured in three major parts namely ‘strophe’ the ‘antistrophe’ and the ‘epode’ by celebrated english  poet John Keats (1795-1821) who was one of the leading figure of the second generation of romantic poets along with P. B. Shelly and Lord Byron.
This poem was first published in his collection titled Annals of the fine arts .Keats excelled notably as a prominent poet in the 18th century. John Keats is best known for his five ‘great odes’ of 1819 which are Ode to Melancholy, Ode to Gracious Urn, Ode to Autumn, Ode to a Nightingale and ode to Psyche.

Keats is known for using Synaesthetic literary device which describes one kind of sensation or imagery in the term of another. He uses this multisensory technique to present the multilayered meanings and undertones in his poems like Ode to a Nightingale. He presents a very pictorial view through his works where visual senses are frequently personified to present the holistic picture of his undertaken themes. Keats also uses various imagery and literary devices and techniques life oxymoron to put forward the real meaning of his poems with its dualistic echoes and meanings pertaining to various direct ideas and subjects and at times subtle and understated themes embedded and entrenched throughout his works.

On a surface level Ode to a Nightingale is a poem written in praise and appreciation of the song of the bird nightingale but if we delve deep into the poem then we could see that Keats used the metaphorical imagery of the bird nightingale and its melodious singing to compare and contradict at the same time with his own emotional and mental state and his inner feelings regarding the human world and its saddening actuality.
In this poem he tries to transcend and escape the realities of his depressing world and all the pains associated with it. Written in the first person form, on a subtle and metaphorical level this poem Ode to a Nightingale sounds more like a confessional poem. At various occasions this poem gets considered as Keats lamentation upon his own sad and tragic life filled with instances of catastrophe and heartbreaks.

In the opening stanza of the poem the poet is found in an almost intoxicated frame of mind feeling numb and lethargic as if he had drunk some tipple or he has got inebriated under the influence of some strange material. He addresses the nightingale singing freely and happily somewhere in the forest away from the distressing realities of human life and their gloomy world. He tries to share the happiness of the nightingale singing from some unseen tree and wishes to reach in the carefree world of the bird to escape his own sad realities of life.


My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pain

My sense, as thought of hemlock I had drunk

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and lethe-wards had sunk. (Keats; 1-4)

 He talks about the truth and beauty at the same time and considers them as indissoluble and complementary to each other. By the brilliant use of figurative language Keats creates a perfect theme to present his imagination of the Nature and in natural surrounding the nightingale bird singing freely sitting on a tree and at the same time his own emotional state to where he feels emptiness and the constant urge to break away from the reality of the everyday life .His texts are considered the work of a brilliant mind because of the means by which he knotted contrary feelings and thoughts together like love and sorrow, pleasure and pain, nature and industrialization etc. 

The poem Ode to a Nightingale is an classic example of Least luminosity. In this poem he talks about the pains of life not directly but metaphorically through song of nightingale and how the song affects his inner emotional state and feeling and which also brings him the idea to dyeing as better option to get rid of the worldly pain and as an escape from the reality too. He finds the nature as well as human emotions slowly deteriorating and dyeing. Keats tries to feel the happiness in the voice of nightingale but ironically the soothing voice of the bird makes him realise even more the sad realities of his own life and surrounding which eventually makes him unhappy instead of feeling cheerfulness.

His  anxiety to escape the reality could be clearly seen In his poem Ode to a Nightingale when initially the poet anticipates and longs to get some wine so that after drinking that he could forget about his own being and existence. He tries to get unified with the singing bird and visit its magical realm with imaginative wings of poetry so that he could leave all his pain and sufferings and despair aside and stop thinking about the sad realities of the life. He desires to be like the bird and admire the nature in its real essence. This desire also represents his lost feelings about the emotionless world. Though soon he realises to forget about all the pains he may not need the support of wine because his own imagination is sufficient to forget about everything and get himself immersed completely in the beauty of nature and the sweetness of the song of the nightingale.

Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on viewless wings of the poesy,

In this poem Ode to a Nightingale the poet wish and tries to escape from the bleakness of the reality into another dominion filled with ecstasy and bliss. Keats very brilliantly with the voyage of his imagination goes into realm of complete peace and stillness away from his mundane life and he finds the cavity of this another serene realm through his own pain. Tangling between the real and imaginary world the poem depicts the poets struggle to attain the desired blissful life but he fails to do so This poem is an perfect example of escapism because it tries to present how the poet tries to leave behind the harsh picture of material driven world and how to tries to feel the melody in the voice of nightingale.

Throughout the poem the poet tries to escape the realities of the life and the mortal world but by the time he reaches at poems end and nightingale flies farther away from him and its melodious singing gets faded away he realizes that he cannot escape his original being by his power of imagination and it cannot be a substitute of real world reality and so he comes back to the veracity and realises the inevitability of his corporeal human life.

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled in the music: Do I wake or sleep?

 Keats tries to go on the imaginative journey through his well constructed poetry. At ample number of places in the poem he uses completely contradictory and dissimilar terms and imagery together. In ordinary human world death generally gets associated with terms like bareness, pain and despair but the uses of oxymoron in ‘rich to die’ associates death as profuse, fruitful and positive in nature in the poem. Surrounded by the beauty in the voice of the nightingale bird the idea of the death seems much richer and strangely satisfying than the idea of living and facing the everyday human world which he sees as a place devoid of real love and purpose. He compares his own mortality with immortality of the voice of the nightingale. He says that the voice he hears singing has always been heard in the past and it will keep on being heard even after him in the future too.

Ode to a Nightingale explores the conception of tension through Keats yearning to escape the depressing sad world and the realisation of his own inability to do so. He tries to forget his personal loss and sufferings by seeking refuse in the pain
free Natural world and in the voice of the nightingale bird. This poem encompasses all the major characteristic qualities of Keats poetry. Throughout the poem Keats uses the imagery of the bird nightingale as a metaphorical symbol to talk about his multilayered meanings filled with variety of undertones.

After a holistic study of the poem ode to the nightingale by john Keats one can clearly trace the theme of escaping reality throughout the poem. By the aesthetic journey of the poet in the poem which started with feeling of despair and despondency towards life filled with pain. He tries to find solace in his surrounding and in the sweet and soothing voice of the nightingale but ironically at the end comes back to the realisation of the inescapability of the mortal human life.

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