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

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

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In Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," in what time and season is the poem set?

The poem is set in late spring or early summer.

Expert Answers

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The poem itself makes reference to the conditions in which it was written and what the speaker sees and experiences around him as he undertakes his flight of imagination. In the fifth stanza, the speaker makes reference to the "seasonable month" and how it has resulted in beautiful nature around him. Note how this description is developed:

Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

The reference to the "musk-rose" as being "mid-May's eldest child" clearly locates when this poem was set, and the plethora of natural beauty that the speaker refers to, such as the "pastoral eglantine" and the "fast-fading violets" certainly support this timing of when plants bloom in Britain. In addition, the poem is written late in the evening, as the speaker makes reference repeatedly to the darkness around him. The same stanza starts off by saying "I cannot see what flowers are around my feet," and this is echoed at various other stages in the poem as the poet has to depend on his other senses to experience what is around him. This interestingly gives rise to the use of synasthesia, where the use of one sense is used to describe something normally perceived by a different sense, as in "soft incense hangs upon the boughs."

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