What does the ‘Nightingale’ symbolize in Ode To A Nightingale

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The ‘Nightingale’ symbolizes ideal beauty for the poet and it is also the visionary realm that inspires the poet. The bird fulfils both the conditions but Keats’ poem, may seem as though the bird is more of a visionary realm for the poet to escape into. The romantics valued spontaneous lyrical utterances and thus, this bird and its song found a prominent place in their poetry. Ode To A Nightingale is full of lively oscillations. Sometimes the ‘Nightingale’ is glorified as an ideal beauty and sometimes, it is the inspiration of the poet. In fact, it was the song of the bird, that the poet heard one evening, that led him to write the poem. And an Ode cannot be complete without praising and without describing physical qualities. Keats may not have described the physical beauty of the bird but somehow, we are left, at the end of the poem, with an image of the bird in our minds. The ‘Nightingale’ is a light-winged ‘Dryad’ of the trees, with ‘full-throated ease’ and makes the poet ‘too happy’ with its song.

The song of the ‘Nightingale’ is filled with spontaneous music. It is something that is issued with ease and willingness. This aspect of the bird’s song leads the poet to fill giddy with joy. He feels a numbness that makes him oblivious. The musical notes of the ‘Nightingale’ makes the poet’s heart ache. This ache is not produced by envy of the bird’s happy state but because the light winged wood nymph is happy in its own happiness. The bird now becomes an inspiration to the poet. This numbness in him makes him seek the world of ‘Bacchus’ – the wine God. He longs for a ‘draught of vintage’ to help him enter the world of imagination. He wants to escape the pain of death and the pain of joy. He possibly recalls the merry life of the people in wine producing countries, their merry songs and the happy state of sun burnt grape gatherers.

Momentarily, the poet returns to reality, pulling himself away from the Nightingale’s world of music. He ponders on the transient spell of mortal life where energetic youth and mellow old age are a necessary phase –

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow

Soon the poet comes back to the Nightingale’s world, this time to reject flying from the world under the influence of wine. He does not seek the chariot of Bacchus to fly away but “…on the viewless wings of Poesy,” He wants to fly to the bird, but not through intoxication but through poetic imagination. This is how the ‘Nightingale’ led the poet from one phase to another.

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What does the ‘Nightingale’ symbolize in Ode To A Nightingale

This article was published on 2012/03/12