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

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

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How does Keats appeal to the senses in "Ode to a Nightingale"?

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Keats appeals to the senses in "Ode to a Nightingale" through various sensory images, particularly of the natural world. He engages readers' visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory imagery to create a melancholy tone.

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Keats uses sensory details, particularly of the natural world, to construct a melancholy tone in "Ode to a Nightingale."

As the poem opens, the speaker is brokenhearted. His feelings of grief cloud his reasoning, and he finds himself filled with "numbness." He turns to the nightingale, whose sounds fill the air with happiness. He imagines the bird singing in a green "plot," filling the air with the sounds of summer's joy. These sensory details representing life and youth are juxtaposed against the speaker's own sense of loss.

In the second stanza, the speaker longs for the perfect bottle of wine, one that tastes of flowers, dance, and sunshine. Keats engages the sensory details of taste (or gustatory imagery) in this stanza, using associations that create positive, warm images.

In the third stanza, the speaker uses visual imagery to describe the loneliness of his own setting. There "is no light," metaphorically representing his feelings of directionless wandering. The trees are gloomy and moss covers his paths. The visual imagery here is foreboding and eerie, which is quite unlike the green plots of summer air which is associated with the nightingale.

In the darkness, the speaker cannot find the beauty of nature, which he is certain is all around him. He longs to see the flowers near his feet and longs to identify the source of the "soft incense" which hangs from the trees. He therefore begins to imagine what must be there in the darkness: white hawthorn, fading violets, and musk-rose. Again, Keats utilizes soft and peaceful visual and olfactory imagery to juxtapose his own feelings of darkness.

As the nightingale flies away, its "anthem fades." Without being able to hear its song, the speaker's own ability to distinguish reality from his imagination begins to fade as well. He has relied on his senses to ground him, and the auditory input from the nightingale has proven particularly inspiring until these final lines. Without the sensory input from the bird, the speaker struggles to navigate reality.

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