Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale” | Ode by John Keats

  • May 20, 2022
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Life is critical but song of nightingale is not and “Ode to Nightingale” is its appreciation. It is also about hard life’s experiences of the poet. It is a journey from real world to the world of imagination. The poet escapes to the world of nightingale. He finds imaginative world more peaceful and harmonious than real world. However, he is alone there too. Ultimately, he returns with a lesson that escape is possible only with death.

Oliver Elton is of the view that this ode has variety of passionate expressions. Indeed, “Ode to Nightingale” is not only about critical life and appreciation of nightingale’s song but also an expression of feelings and emotions. Stanza to stanza, poet’s thought develops. His mood changes and he expresses his emotions.

John Keats, in “Ode to Nightingale” makes a comparison between several things as he does an analysis in Ode to Melancholy. Some of them are:

  • Art and life
  • Mortality and immortality.
  • Imagination and reality.
  • World of mankind and world of nightingale.
  • Natural beauty and artificiality.
  • Pleasure and pain
  • Life and death

Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

Stanza-I Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

Poem starts with sense of dullness. Mood of the poet is gloomy. He sleeps while hearing the song of nightingale. Sleep overpowers him and he starts his journey to the world of nightingale. It is one of the most important ingredients of romantic poetry that it promotes escapism. Like every romantic poet, John Keats is also an escapist. In fact, he is the most escapist poet among them. Romantic poetry is the poetry of dreams and imagination. “Ode to Nightingale” is also a dream.

We find the poet in the world of nightingale. He hears its sweet song and enjoys it. He is in a dim forest, where nightingale is singing song. He hears it without any interruption. Poet uses a lot of images in starting lines of the poem. For instance, trees, shadows, sun etc.

Stanza-II Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

The poet is in fancy world. He expresses his different desires. Firstly, he wants high quality red wine. He remembers difficulties of life and wants to forget them but his sensitiveness does not allow him. Hence, he wants red wine. It would help him in this regard. He wants wine from Provence. It is a region in southeastern France and is famous for landscapes, fun, jollity and wine.

Stanza-III Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

Life is tough and painful. It is much difficult to face harsh realities of life. No one can know these facts better than John Keats. Misfortunes of life disturb him. He wants to “fade far away” and “quite forget” the “weariness, the fever, and the fret”.

In this stanza, the poet sketches the world of reality. In real world, “men sit and hear each other groan.” It is full of sadness. People born, spend a “sad” life; “Palsy” paralysis some of them, whereas remaining grow old and ultimately “die(s)”. Furthermore, beauty, in this world does not last longer. In short, this world is “full of sorrow[s]”.

Keats does not talk only about his own anxieties. He also talks about the people and their worries. It gives this poem a universal appeal. Nevertheless, objectivity is still therein. We can’t deny that men in this wold grow pale and finally die. Death is certain for everyone. It is a bitter truth. Even lovers’ passion of love cannot save a person from death. Death makes the poet sad.

Stanza-IV Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

It starts with escapism. “Away! Away! for I will fly to thee”. In start of the poem, the poet asks for sacred wine but in this stanza he gives up on this idea. He needs no “charioted by Bacchus and his pards.” Bacchus is the god of wine and “charioted” is his chariot. He splendidly rides it. The poet does not want it either. However, he wants to escape from this world. For this purpose, he chooses “viewless wings of Poesy”. His poetic imagination can help him to start his journey to a new world, where he sees a shining moon regardless of darkness.

John Keats has created many wonderful images in this stanza. He also refers the god of wine. We can witness strong imagination of the poet. He is confident that neither wine nor chariot of Bacchus but his own imagination can take him to the fancy world. He rejects the idea of wine hence it is no more required. Perhaps, he has realized that the wine is a temporary solution. Although imagination is also not an everlasting solution yet it is better than the wine. Moreover, it is a beautiful sentiment.

Stanza-V Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

Keats’ poetry appeals to the senses. Out of five human senses, three can be witnessed in this stanza which are:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • touch

In the world of imagination, he has seen the shining moon. There is darkness everywhere, therefore, he can’t see anything else. Nonetheless, he can feel and smell flowers when his feet touche them. He starts this stanza with following line.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet.
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs
But in embalmed darkness guess each sweet.

He guesses from the smell of flowers that they are “White hawthorn” and “Eglantine”. He than talks about “Mid May’s eldest child” called “musk rose”. It is the first flower that grows in middle of May. There is also another image in this stanza which is of murmuring flies.

From the above lines, conclusion can be drawn that the poet is in deepest oblivion. Description of natural images is evident that John Keats is a true romantic poet. Flowers, bushes, moon, rays, flies and trees prove that poet has high imaginative powers.

Stanza-VI Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

The poet is still in imaginary world with nightingale. It is much pleasant and peaceful for him. As peaceful as death. He has no fear of death. He sees death as a freedom. “Easeful death” is a kind of consolation for him. Death actually is the solution of Keats’ problems. At this moment of life nothing can help him but death. He wants peace. Although he finds it in world of imagination yet it is temporary. He wants a permanent solution. He has found it. If death approaches him it would bring him greater happiness. However, the only loss which he observes is that he would not be able to hear the eternal song of nightingale. The bird will mourn on his death but he would have “become a sod.”

Stanza-VII Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

It is the crux of the whole poem. Keats has already described the real world in stanzas III of the poem. This stanza is entirely opposite to the former one. He completely demonstrates the world of nightingale. He puts two things in juxtaposition; life and everlasting song of nightingale. Seventh stanza of the poem is also a comparison between mortality and immortality. Humans have limited time to live and that too is full of worries. On the other hand, song of nightingale is endless. He expresses his thoughts in following lines:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

Nightingale has been singing song for many years. Many “empror[s] and clown[s]” have heard this song. It was being listened before Keats’ birth and even after his death it would be listened for many years. In this way, song of nightingale is immortal. He refers “Ruth” from the Bible. She was maiden. She was captivated by a cruel king. Keats is of the view that she had also listened the song of nightingale. In short, it has been heard by kings, by knights, by warriors and by maidens and will be listened in future. The poet proves that song of nightingale is immortal, whereas life, on the other hand is mortal. 

Stanza-VIII Critical Appreciation of “Ode to Nightingale”:

With the word, “forlorn”, the poet returns from imagination. His mood is sad. Song, flowers, trees, moon, forest, roses and maiden inspired him but he had to come back in the real world. There is no other option for him. He cannot stay there forever. The poet knows that the world of imagination though gives peace yet it is a lie. He calls it a “deceiving elf”. At the end, song of nightingale “fled” so as imagination of the poet. He ends the poem with a question. He writes:

Fled is that music: -Do I wake or sleep?


“Ode to Nightingale”, in a nutshell, is the expression of feelings. It is a highly impressive poem of John Keats. The poem is evident that he is a true romantic and a pure poet. It reveals his strong imaginative powers. He has successfully managed making comparisons and demonstrating nature and its objects. He has proved that song of nightingale is immortal. It has also been proved that imagination is pleasurable and the life is painful. Sidney Colvin’s remarks are worth mentioning. He said:

It [Ode to Nightingale] is among the varied glories of the English poetry.

Sidney Colvin’s on “Ode to Nightingale”
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