What is the significance of Stanza VI within the larger work of "Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats?: "Darkling, I listen; and, for many a timeI have been half in love with easeful Death...sod."

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats finds himself torn between a number of polarities: the temporal and the eternal, the spiritual and the material, and life and death. The song of the nightingale is eternal; it has resounded throughout history and shall continue to do so for ever more. Yet somehow Keats, as with all of us, must live in the temporal world, the world of time, the here and now. But by the time we've reached the sixth stanza in "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats frankly acknowledges the difficulty of resolving the ceaseless tension between his spiritual longings as represented by the "immortal bird," and his material, worldly existence.

Keats is so enraptured by the beauty of the nightingale's song that he muses that perhaps now would be a good time to die, to slip away quietly without pain or discomfort. Keats doesn't want to return to the ordinary world, especially not after the nightingale has provided him with a glimpse of the eternal sublime. Succumbing to the drowsy summer's evening haze, the poet contemplates a death accompanied by the sound of the nightingale's song. But the song would eventually turn into a requiem, a mass for the dead. And like all such commemorations it would go unheard by the deceased. By this time, Keats would be buried far beneath the sod, or turf, while the nightingale would carry on merrily with its luscious serenade, blissfully unaware of the earthly death to which it had provide such a sweet accompaniment.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his writing, the Romantic poet John Keats finds himself in a tangle of what one critic terms "inseparable but irreconcilable opposites." For, in his beautiful poetry, he finds delight in thoughts of death, and yet he revels in the sheer existence of things.

"Ode to a Nightingale" exemplifies Keats's contradictions of such experiences. In Stanza VI the poet is seduced by "easeful Death" which can end his troubles as it "take[s] into the air my quiet breath." The meaning of line 54 is somewhat nebulous as it may mean that the poet seeks death to take air from him, or possibly that the air carries along with his verses some of his breath. At any rate, both interpretations involve the entanglement of the poet and Nature. 

Then, in lines 55-58, Keats continues his contemplation of death, finding it "rich to die" while so immersed with Nature in his delight of the "ecstasy" of the nightingale's song. For, he and the songbird both are lost in joy: he with the beauty of the bird's song, and the nightingale with his delight in life. However, in the final lines, 59-60, Keats again separates himself from Nature as he realizes that the nightingale will continue singing even if he dies. Then his ears will be "in vain"--useless--as he merely becomes "a sod" while the lovely bird sings a "high requiem" for him.