Compare and contrast the poems "Ode to a Nightingale" and "To Autumn" by the poet John Keats.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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John Keats was a Romantic poet: and of all the characteristics for which the Romantics were known, nature is one of the most (if not the most) prominent themes of their poetry.

Along with Byron and Shelley, Keats (though he died young) had developed early a mastery of placing images of nature on paper. In "Ode to a Nightingale," he writes profusely in praise of nature, of all things born of nature, and his deepest desire to be carried away by nature:

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South...

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim...

One is swept away by the pure bliss Keats imagines in drinking of water long cooled beneath the surface of the earth—that tastes even of the plants growing nearby, so pure it would be. He wishes for the joy of nature, and that he might disappear from the world into the "forest dim."

The speaker talks to the nightingale, wishing he could fly away with it—not by use of intoxication (Bacchus), but through the verses of poetry (Poesy). This poem praises the bird, and the speaker wishes he could soar to the heights as the bird does, free from the worries and heartaches of the day—Keats "diagnosed his own tuberculosis." So it is easy to understand that...

As he listens to a bird’s song, the speaker becomes more and more enraptured by it, and increasingly disgruntled with the mortal world of pain and death.

The poem is made up of eight ten-line stanzas. The pattern of rhyme (found with the last word of each lines) is ababcdecde.

In "To Autumn," there are three stanzas, each with eleven lines. Keats uses personification to heighten the effectiveness of his imagery. The poem concentrates on the later part of the fall, when crops are nearing their harvest and winter is fast approaching.

The work has been interpreted as a meditation on death...

The beauty, warmth and fullness of nature is offered up in the first stanza:

Conspiring with [the sun] how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

"Mists" and "fruitfulness" conspire (personification) with the sun to further ripen plants, such as those on the vines and apples bending the limbs that hold them, filling each with "ripeness to the core." The gourds shall grow rounder, the hazelnut shells "plumper," and the corn sweeter by the day. Flowers will continue to bloom to feed the bees personified to "believe" that these days will never end as they fill the honeycomb to overflowing.

Keats praises autumn. He mentions the spring, but notes that autumn is important now: it "hast thy music too," with the clouds over the "soft-dying day," the mournful "gnats," a light wind, crickets singing and even a robin that still lingers, whistling at the close of the day. 

Keats sees more than grass and trees and sky: he sees it as simple and pure, and praises it—bringing it vibrantly to life for the reader.

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