What are the Keatsean predicaments in "Ode to the Nightingale" and "To Autumn"?

epollock | Student


Keats, one of the pre-eminent poets of English Romanticism, was inspired by Edmund Spenser and John Milton, although he progressed later in life into a unique style with his famous odes.

In “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats explores important questions of vitality, morality, love, and nature. The nightingale, in Keats’ day, would have been immediately recognized as a symbol of erotic love. Keats is concerned intellectually with the inexorable effects of the passage of time on beauty and on human love. The world of everyday realities is a place of weariness, frustration, and change, “Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, / Or new Love pine at them beyone tomorrow.” What Keats wishes to do is to reach out to a world in which love and beauty are not subject to change. His prime symbol for the imaginative power that will take him on this journey is the nightingale, or more specifically its song.

Some scholars believe this poem best exemplifies Keats’ theory of Negative Capability, a state of uncertainty which may engulf even men of great reason and may leave them without hope of logic to extract themselves.

Keats' "To Autumn"Critics is rich in tactile, visual, and auditory imagery, differing somewhat in the weight they give to the melancholy overtones of the autumnal scene. The first two stanzas seem to build up, or appear to build up, a wholly happy picture of summery warmth and bursting ripeness in everything, of vines and trees and fruits and nuts and bees fulfilling their creative destiny. The personified spirit of autumn becomes a mythic figure, a kind of immortal; although reaping and cider-making are not lifted out of the practical world, they are invested with the dignity and aura of seasonal rites.

Yet even in these stanzas there is the overshadowing fact of impermanence. The summer has done its work and is departing; and if autumn comes, winter cannot be far behind. Precise hints are few—the bees ‘think warm days will never cease,’ the cider reaches its ‘last oozings’—but we cannot escape the melancholy implications of exuberant ripeness.” In the last stanza, “every item carries an elegiac note. The day is dying and gnats and lambs and crickets and birds all seem to be aware of approaching darkness.”

There may be no bird song as in "Ode to a Nightingale, but we are not to regret this because autumn has a music of its own, which is sad but not despairing because autumn is in the harmony of things. The verse rises and falls mournfully with the cloud of gnats, but the lambs bleat loud. They may no longer ‘bound as to the tablor’s sound’ and they are protesting because they have been separated from the ewes, but they will live on; they symbolize life’s continuity, like the robin who whistles cheerfully through the winter and the migrating swallows who will return from the ‘warm south.’ ”

Read the study guide:
Ode to a Nightingale

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question