Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Ode to a Nightingale Study Guide

Subscribe Now

History of the Text

Romanticism in England: Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that arose in Europe in the late 18th century. It began in Germany in the hands of poets and scholars such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805). These German thinkers sought a fresh perspective that could counter the Enlightenment, the movement that had dominated European intellectual life in the 18th century.

  • The Enlightenment favored a rational and empirical view of the world. Indeed, the Enlightenment arrived hand in hand in with the Scientific Revolution. The birth of the modern sciences gave rise to an attitude that humanity’s best path forward is the pursuit of ever-more-precise models of the universe.

The Romantics were repelled by the Enlightenment’s mechanistic view of things, as well as the religious and superstitious doctrines that preceded the Enlightenment. Thus, the Romantics learned to derive meaning from the experiences and feelings of the individual. As a result, it became a movement of poets, painters, and composers.

  • Romanticism came to England in the 1790s, due to the efforts of William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834). These two English poets were deeply influenced by the German Romantics and introduced Romanticism to the English literary world with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

The Life and Poetry of John Keats: John Keats (1795–1821) lived a remarkably short and remarkably creative life. He was born in London to working-class parents. Keats’s father died when he was nine years old, and his mother left the family shortly thereafter.

  • These early abandonments left Keats and his brothers, George and Thomas, responsible for themselves. As a result, he decided to train as an apothecary, hoping to secure a stable profession. The onset of tuberculosis in Thomas deepened Keats’s need for dependable income. However, his literary ambitions complicated his desire for stability. Since his childhood, Keats had been a passionate reader of the classics.
  • In his late adolescence, he began to write a great deal of poetry, much of it infused with the classical images and themes that had enraptured him as a boy. The first accomplished poem Keats wrote, the 1816 sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” directly reflects his classical readings. In the following year, Keats decided to devote himself to his poetry. He ended his medical training and rented a room in Hampstead Heath in northern London. In Hampstead, he composed and studied poetry with...

(The entire section is 619 words.)