Contrast in "Ode to a Nightingale"

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Contrast in "Ode to a Nightingale"

Postby sonja » Tue Apr 27, 2004 4:21 am

In my research and analysis on "Ode to a Nightingale," I seem to find contrasts everywhere I look- between the speaker and the bird (and their respective "worlds"); between imagination and reality (ok, so I read about that constrast!), and between immortality and transience.

I'm fairly confident in my understanding of the literal meanings of the poem and the examples of contrast, but what do these contrasts mean to the work as a whole? Is Keats saying that he can never achieve the "immortality" of the nightingale, as immortalized through poetry?

I'm currently thinking along these lines- the bird is a symbol for a sort of high poetry that the speaker aspires to but too often finds himself in a world of "hungry generations." Strangely though, he says that he will go to the bird "on the viewless wings of Poesy," but in the last stanza, the bird flies away from him. Could this be seen as some sort of poetic ability escaping him? Then again, Keats did succeed in writing highly successful and powerful poetry, so maybe it doesn't really fit...

Any ideas, please?
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Re: Contrast in "Ode to a Nightingale"

Postby vinny » Sat Mar 19, 2005 12:53 am

sonja wrote:In my research and analysis on "Ode to a Nightingale," I seem to find contrasts everywhere I look- between the speaker and the bird (and their respective "worlds"); between imagination and reality (ok, so I read about that constrast!), and between immortality and transience.

I'm fairly confident in my understanding of the literal meanings of the poem and the examples of contrast, but what do these contrasts mean to the work as a whole? Is Keats saying that he can never achieve the "immortality" of the nightingale, as immortalized through poetry?

I'm currently thinking along these lines- the bird is a symbol for a sort of high poetry that the speaker aspires to but too often finds himself in a world of "hungry generations." Strangely though, he says that he will go to the bird "on the viewless wings of Poesy," but in the last stanza, the bird flies away from him. Could this be seen as some sort of poetic ability escaping him? Then again, Keats did succeed in writing highly successful and powerful poetry, so maybe it doesn't really fit...

Any ideas, please?


Hello! I'd say you are quite right in believing the many contrasts inherent in this ode. The bird is a symbol of the ideal, which is an impossibility of course. I like how you have noticed 'Posey' flying from Keats. My interpretation would be:

This poem is based on a central conflict between appearances (and their representation) and reality. Keats seems to chase after the Nightingale as it is a symbol of the ideal. This is because the "hungery generations" (Grecian Urn) cannot tread the Nightingale down just like the grecian urn. Of course poor John realises he cannot rationalise the impossibility of fulfilling an ideal on a transcient level thus, in the final stanza, he is "forlorn!" and realises the "deceived elf" that is the imagination -has tricked him into believing he has grasped the ideal- a phenomena like one catching one's shadow. :wink:

Your idea of Keats's poetic imagination escaping him may be argued but I personally don't believe it. You are right in suggesting that it "doesn't really fit" with the rest of his poetry. Keats discovers his dynamic imagination in "...Homer..." but he never "undiscovers" it- ironically an event he wish would occur if you analyse "Ode on Indolence".

It is the ideal (symbolised by the bird's song) that is escaping the poet once again and the final question we are asked in this ode induces much pathos in the reader as it is indeed a "waking dream". It is a dream as Keats has sensed the bird's qualities on a poetic level and it is "waking" as it forces him to realise the intangible nature of humanity ever achieving such perfection where acute pain and worry is rather distant!

Hope this helps! Probably not, but anyways..!

Vincent
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Postby Steen » Fri Apr 01, 2005 9:26 pm

I thought the line "waking dream" referred to the fact that the lifestyle which he encouraged (the romantic life) could feel like a dream.
The nightingale allows him to have this experience of the senses, the pinnacle of his messages, which was "live life though feelings and sensations", however the moment of bliss is short lived. I think that he is saying that you can live for the sense for a short time and enjoy it, however your experiences must end and you will have to face reality, or wake from the dream. In the poem I think Keats realises that once he is back to the “real” world as it were the almost otherworldly experience he had while studying the Nightingale seem to be just a dream. It goes with his theme of happiness being short lived, such as seen in Lamia.
Of course thats just how I read it.
You don't love a women because she is beatiful, she is beatiful because you love her.
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Postby Becky » Mon Apr 11, 2005 3:12 pm

the imagination -has tricked him into believing he has grasped the ideal


LM Montgomery had some interesting things to say about this. I don't think she ever quite made up her mind, either. I am going to commit a very grave heresy, and suggest reading some of her works to understand keats (her characterisation is almost always about the romantic ideal versus the prosaic, and some of her characters seem to be quoting him at points), because it always helps to structure some form other voices into your essay to knock ideas off, although you prob shouldn't quote directly. Its also easier to understand something complicated if you refer to something deliberately simplified.

Thats my answer to all those 'how romantic is keats?' questions
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Postby girl » Mon Jun 06, 2005 8:49 pm

Ode to a Nightingale presents the conflicted nature of human life; displaying the interconnection of pain and pleasure, joy and sadness, life and death, the imagination and reality.
These contrasting feelings are understandable as the poem was written in the Spring of 1819, after a previous December which saw both the death of his brother Tom, and his engagement to Fanny Brawne, thus Keats was feeling mixed emotions. This also meant that he didnt know where he wanted to be. In his imagination he could escape the pain of the reality of the death of his brother, however this would mean he couldn't enjoy his relationship with Fanny, however reality posed the inverse feelings, the joy of his love but the pain of grief.

For me I read this as Keats comparing his poems and his life to the song of the bird. Keats stresses that "’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thine happiness" suggesting that he isn't jealous of the birds song, for he has his own poems, but rather that he wishes he could be as happy as the bird with what he writes. The Nightingales song is immortal in that it has been sung for years and not been changed HOWEVER Keats' own work was of course brand new and maybe he feared that "hungry generations" would change or misinterpret what it said.

Sorry if that makes no sense its kinda hard to explain...

I did like the idea that the waking dream is the romantic lifestyle this is a good point which I would never have thought of!
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