Ode to a Nightingale by Learie Jones
In John Keats’ poem Ode to a Nightingale, the speaker is on the verge of death and is looking at the dull world around him when he sees something: a nightingale, which he envies greatly. But as the speaker gets closer to death, he realizes that the nightingale lives a life that he will soon feel and experience. In this poem, Keats uses heavy imagery to describe the cross from the dreadful world we live in on Earth to the beautiful and magnificent world of the sky, or the heavens.
The speaker’s envy begins in the first stanza and continues in the second stanza, as the man’s self-descriptions of “heart aches” and “drowsy numbness pains” are met by the nightingale, who is “being too happy in thine happiness” and “Singest of summer in full throated ease”. The man is jealous of the elegant bird’s happiness because his life has become so dreadful in his world on Earth that he feels the nightingale should feel dreadful as well. But what the following stanzas begin to show is that the nightingale lives on Earth but at the same time does not “live” there; the bird’s life exists in the skies, something the man has not experienced.
The contrast of life perspective between man and nightingale is described in stanzas three and four, with the third stanza speaking of the man’s experience of the world and the fourth stanza speaking of the world of the nightingale. In the third stanza, the man’s world is described as a place “where men sit and hear each other groan”, describing the inevitable agony of life. The last two lines, “Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes” and “new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow” says that the speaker believes that beauty and pleasure are brief luxuries that one will soon learn will never last. This view of life on Earth is different from the perceived view of the nightingale’s world in the sky, described to be “charioted… on the viewless wings of Poesy”, a brighter image than described in the third stanza. But as the man reminisces in the life of the bird in the sky, night arrives in the end of stanza and brings him back to thoughts of his world. At this point there is a clear transition, for the man has now seen the world he wants to be in and the world he wants to leave.
In stanza five, everything about Earth seems to disgust the man; beautiful violets are “covered up in leaves” and May brings not giddy thoughts of summer but instead the “murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves” instead. Finally in the sixth stanza, the speaker’s intentions are clear, as he says that he has “been half in love with easeful Death”. In the seventh stanza the man has almost left the Earth as he looks once more to the “immortal Bird”, who is not made to die, for it is an immortal symbol of life and beauty. Finally, in stanza eight the final line reads, “Do I wake or sleep”. The question implies that the man has lost all train of thought, and that he has crossed to the afterlife.