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Featured Poem: ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats

Written by Chris Routledge, 13th October 2008

Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale' needs little in the way of introduction and I'm posting it today simply because it is so wonderful. It was written in 1819, when Keats was 24 years old, the second of the five 'Odes' written that year. It is worth reading this poem alongside its 'twin', the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', which we published here a little over a year ago.


Ode to a Nightingale


My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

  My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

  One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

  But being too happy in thine happiness,—

    That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

          In some melodious plot

  Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

    Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

  Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

  Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

  Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

    With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

          And purple-stained mouth;

  That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

    And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


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;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

  Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

          And leaden-eyed despairs,

  Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

  Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

  Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

  And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

    Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;

          But here there is no light,

  Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

    Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

  Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

  Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

  White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

    Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

          And mid-May’s eldest child,

  The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

    The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

  I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

  To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

  To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

    While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

          In such an ecstasy!

  Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—

    To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

  No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

  In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

          The same that oft-times hath

  Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

  To toil me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

  As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

  Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

    Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

          In the next valley-glades:

  Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

    Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?




Posted by Chris Routledge

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