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

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

Start Free Trial

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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the impact of the bird's song on the poet in "Ode To Nightingale?"

The poet admires the nightingale's song because the bird sings with "full-throated ease." The poet recognizes a freedom of creativity and art in the song. In the third stanza, the poet notes that the nightingale does not have the concerns that he, a human being, has:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

The nightingale's song is beautiful and the poet recognizes the creativity of that song as something comparable to his art of poetry. So, he sees a common connection there. But the poet is particularly fascinated because the song comes from a creature who is not burdened by the realities of aging, sorrow, and death. To the poet, the nightingale sings without those concerns. He, on the other hand, writes poetry with those concerns always in mind. Keats was always too aware of his own mortality. And as an artist trying to create poetry that could be timelessly celebrated, he is thinking of immortality. He sees/hears that immortality in the nightingale's song because the song comes from a place in which mortality is not a concern:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;

The poet wonders what it's like to sing/create without those concerns. He also longs for his own poetry to achieve the kind of immortality he hears in the nightingale's song.

 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the voice of the nightingale affect the poet in "Ode to a Nightingale"?

In "Ode to a Nightingale," the Romantic poet John Keats is transported through a myriad of emotions by the song of the nightingale. In the first stanza, he feels such ecstasy...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

that his emotions leave him feeling as if he had been drugged, and the awe of the sensation is akin to a sense of anguish. In the second stanza he feels a timeless sense of joy and a oneness with nature, to the point that he can feel the beauty of the countryside and taste the fruit of the vine that the warmth and sunshine produce.

The mood changes with the third stanza, as the nightingale song makes him realize how different human life is from the transporting beauty of the song. Here he feels sadness and despair about the fading of youth and sorrows of old age and loss of love. At this point he feels it best to die while in the throes of the intoxicating song.

While the nightingale’s song will continue on for generations to come, as it was for generations past, he realizes he will hear it no more after death. Keats is now affected by the song with the melancholy realization that it was for him a fleeting moment of transcendence, but that the song of the nightingale will go on forever.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on