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Student 1 Special Student Mrs. Simmons English II Pre-AP, Per. 1 27 November 2007 Love Dies Numbness inhibits the senses of a man enveloped in the dreamy festivities of oblivion, inebriated with a song he cannot see, and moved by a sense of beauty in death. His sage and bitter attitude toward life culminates in a prayer for salvation and a respite from the loneliness of depression. In his poem “Ode to a Nightingale,” a mystical melody inspired by a magical encounter with eternal beauty, John Keats expresses his desire for peace, perfection, and love in the face of death and transient life. The quest for nobility and transcendence of spirit proved arduous and unfulfilling for the poets of the English Renaissance, idealists who detested industrialization and promoted “art, nature, perception, and imagination” (“Historical” 233-234). John Keats, one of these passionate pilgrims, epitomized the ideals of the movement: Young, in love, and desperate for truth, he moved in a small circle and lived a life of sorrow that motivated him to write down his hopes and dreams. Adopted by a guardian, Richard Abbey, after his parents died, he pursued an apothecary’s career until he discovered writing and decided to become a poet (“Author” 228). Keats followed his own ambition and ignored the disgust of people who thought the “son of a stable keeper,” “of middle-class or working-class origins,” had no business writing poetry (“Author” 228, Sutherland 237). Before publishing “Ode to a Nightingale,” the poet “experienced the first symptoms of tuberculosis,” a disease which put an end to both his Student 2 mother’s and his younger brother’s lives before ravaging him (“Author” 228). He fell in love with a neighbor called Fanny Brawne, “though his poor health and financial difficulties made marriage impossible” (228). In a desperate attempt to overcome his fatal illness, Keats traveled to Rome, where he died at the age of 26 (“Author” 228). These events, along with a natural inclination to publicly justify his depression, led to the dream-like, autobiographical, and reverential flood of sensations in “Ode to a Nightingale.” A writer with thick skin, John Keats has no difficulty employing his own unabashed style and imagination to invest in self-discovery and solitary contemplation, with little regard for his critics. He feels “as though of hemlock [he has] drunk” when the nightingale begins its song, and the dull, blunt edges of his senses pulse with the rhythm he hears (Keats 2). Capering about “some melodious plot / Of beechen green,” the bird displays romanticism and insensibility in its dreamlike environment (Keats 8-9). An “occasional note of uncouthness or grotesquerie mixed in with the metrical perfection” grounds the narrator in reality and motivates his desire for “drink, and [to] leave the world unseen” (Sutherland 238, Keats 18). He envies the earth’s capacity for life, clearly yearning for “sunburnt mirth” and “lustrous eyes” (Keats 14, 29). The poet’s description of mortal life, “where youth grows pale, and specter-thin and dies,” contrasts with the wood where the nightingale, a nymph, radiates happiness (Keats 26). Superseding life’s reality, the timeless quality of the nightingale’s song makes Keats wish to abandon mortality. Begging for her inspiration, Keats follows the nightingale and finds her sound and smell smothering him, although he still cannot see his surroundings. “On the viewless wings of Poesy,” or poetical inspiration, the narrator shadows the beautiful entity and blindly walks through a dim forest (Keats 33). To persuade his muse, the poet stumbles, with “no light” but her song to guide him to a place between heaven and earth (Keats 38). The nightingale arouses “the kind of Student 3 inspiration that is ardent and enthralling,” haunting “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” with “white hawthorn, eglantine, violets and musk-roses” (Wentersdorf 240, Keats 40, Wentersdorf 241). Just as the narrator easily discerns this odoriferous concentration, he finds locating the flowers a simple task and remains certain of the reality of his perceptions despite the fact that “[he] cannot see the flowers at [his] feet” (Keats 41). Sight surrenders to violent scents as the poet envisions “fast fading violets covered up in leaves” and “the coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine” (Keats 47, 49). Sound engenders smell, which kindles sight; the poet experiences a sensory whirlwind of stimulants, emphasizing the nightingale’s profound influence. Keats befriends death as the nightingale ends her song, leaving him confused, alone, and unsatisfied. Admitting that “[he has] been half in love with easel Death,” who can support him through his struggles and end his life “with no pain,” the poet welcomes an end but compares himself to the nightingale, realizing his own inferiority to “such an ecstasy” of expression (Keats 52, 56, 58). The narrator’s fascination with death convinces him that “no respite from the agony and despair of consciousness in the blankness of the modern world” can equal nonexistence (Boulger 309). He bemoans the universal effect of his muse and learns that many others have received the same inspiration from the same source; perhaps “the voice [he hears] this passing night” belongs to the “emperor and clown” of the past (Keats 63, 64). However, the nightingale’s historical innocence becomes more important to her listener as her “plaintive anthem fades / Past the near meadows, over the still stream,” and the poet is left with nothing (Keats 75-76). Her absence acts like “a bell / To toll him back… to his sole self” and awakens him from his bottomless fantasy (Keats 71-72). Allowing him to make peace with death, the nightingale imparts a quality of tranquility and artistic beauty to Keats’s despair. Student 4 A dark and dreary place filled with the sick and wounded, life reveals its ugliness in “Ode to a Nightingale.” Keats believes that his own insignificance instigates his unhappiness and causes his destruction, but the hopelessness of his situation terminates in a miraculous revival of spirit when he hears the nightingale’s song. However, once he understands the unattainable freedom and peace the nightingale has achieved, “forlorn” loneliness overtakes his optimism once more (Keats 70). Death finally comes to claim the lost, tragic soul in the midst of fitful sleep. Student 5 Works Cited “Author Biography.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 228. Boulger, James D. Poetry Criticism. Ed. Marie Robyn V. Young. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991. 306-11. “Historical Context.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 233-5. Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 228-9. Sutherland, Fraser. Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 235-8. Wentersdorf, Karl P. Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 238-43.
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