person with eyes closed, dreaming, while a nightingale sings a song

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats
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Discuss at least two characteristics of Romanticism in John Keat's poem "Ode toa Nightingale".

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In the poem "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats, the poet expresses a Romantic nostalgia for the past and alludes to it several times. He ties this in with ideas of beauty, joy, calm and pastoral scenery. In this, John keats appears to express an overpowering urge to run away into escapism. It is said that he wrote this poem in the early warmth of a spring time garden at a friend's house. It is also well known that Keats endured years of painful ill health and had to nurse and watch friends die through similar illnesses. it is little wonder then, given the prevalence of lung illnesses at the time, that he alludes to opiates and vacations. He longs to join the nightingale who will save him and draw him further away into the greenery of the wood.

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"Ode to a Nightingale" is an example of the romantic attachment to nature.  In just the first stanza, the speaker, as a result of the bird's singing, writes that his heart aches, and his senses are numb as though he's drank poison or used an opiate, not from envy, but because he is so happy for the bird's happiness. 

The poem also demonstrates the romantic attachment to a romanticized past.  Allusions abound:

  • Lethe-wards--toward Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Hades
  • Dryad--a classical nymph
  • Flora--goddess of flowers
  • Hippocrene--classical fountain from which flowed inspiration

The romanticized past is used to describe the speaker's feelings and the nightingale itself.

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