The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ode to a Nightingale” is a poem in eight numbered stanzas; as the title suggests, it takes the form of a direct address to a nightingale. The speaker, evidently the poet John Keats himself, hears a nightingale singing. This beautiful but melancholy sound, which has inspired legends since the time of ancient Greece, fills him with complex and conflicting emotions. It makes him happy because he can empathize with the bird’s zest for living and procreating at the height of the spring season; at the same time, it makes him sad because he is alone and has been preoccupied with morbid thoughts.

In stanza 2, Keats wishes he had a whole “beaker full” of wine so that he could get intoxicated and lose consciousness. He describes the red wine in loving detail, then goes on to specify the mortal woes from which he would like to escape—primarily those associated with old age, sickness, and death. “Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin and dies” refers to his brother Tom, who had recently died of tuberculosis, the disease which was to claim Keats’s own life in less than three years.

Since Keats has no wine, in stanza 4 he decides to escape by creating poetry. He makes his poem engrossing by seeming to take the reader along with him in the process of creating it. He will become a wild bird in his imagination and share in the nightingale’s view of the world. This notion represents the essence of the Romantic spirit: the attempt to...

(The entire section is 448 words.)