What effect does the nightingale's song have on Keats in his "Ode to a nightingale"

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Keats expresses a very strong reaction to the song of the nightingale. His heart aches and a drowsy numbness overwhelms him as if he had drunk poison hemlock or an opiate. Then he explains that this is because he is made too happy by the bird's happiness. Keats was young but was already developing a drinking problem. He wishes he had a beaker of wine so that he could escape from the real world and join the bird where it was singing in the bushes. Then, since he has no liquor, he decides to try to escape from the world in his imagination, and he briefly manages to do so. His desire to escape is motivated by his fear that he will die very early of consumption (tuberculosis), a disease which killed him not long thereafter. The nightingale, in Keats' imagination, is immortal. It is the same bird singing the same song it has sung since biblical times. It is full of joy because it is immortal and knows nothing about the pains and fears of mortals like himself. Keats ends up feeling sad when he is forced to realize that he cannot escape for long on "the viewless wings of poesy." But he has escaped for long enough to conceive one of the most beautiful poems in the English language.

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Ode to a Nightingale

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