John Keats was a Romantic Poet who is known for his own sensibilities. In fact he is one of my most favorite poets. The present poem is an explanation of his mood which is eternal and blessed. At the age of twenty five he died of Tuberculosis. He has influenced several young writers of the world. The following lines of the first stanza expresses-

             “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.”

Through the above lines the poet says that after listening to the song of Nightingale the poet sinks into a world of drowsy numbness. It is actually a kind of pain and the poet seems motionless as if he has taken hemlock and opium. Lethe is a river in Greek mythology and it was thought that if somebody drinks water from this river then he forgets whatever his mind has remembered through experience or knowledge. So this river is the river of forgetfulness. The poet further says that it should not be understood that he is jealous of the Nightingale because she sings so well but he has become too happy in her happiness. The poet calls the Nightingale as a “Dryad”. It is a reference to a nymph in Greek mythology. Dryads were the nymph used to live on trees like birds. It has also been imagined by the poet that these nymphs had wings. Keats is praising the Nightingale as if they are having a conversation. Wherever the Nightingale sings the surrounding becomes melodious.

Beechen Green is beechen woods forming a forest which is thick and thus it has shadows numberless. It is in this surrounding in summer the Nightingale is singing with full throat and the poet is enjoying the song. In the next stanza the poet says that-

             “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 Provençal 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:

Through the above lines the poet says that the song of the nightingale is like a vintage wine stored in cellars under the ground. Song of the nightingale is provincial and beautiful and the poet thinks of dancing on the tune of the nightingale. The reference sunburnt mirth takes us to the colder climate where keats is missing the warmer and comfortable sun light. Again Keats talks about Greek mythology where he uses “Hippocrene” which is supposed to be a spring on a mountain which was considered sacred to the muses. The word blushful symbolically stands for the wine with beaded bubbles. After tasting such wines the purple stains the mouth of the poet. Thus Keats has used a beautiful metaphor here by comparing the song of the nightingale with blushful Hippocrene. The poet says that when he listens to the music of the Nightingale he wants to be lost in that music like drowning and fade away to that forest away from the normal life which the poet is living. In the third stanza the poet says that-

             “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.”

The poet continues with fading away with the Nightingale. The poets want to fade away because he is unhappy with the sufferings of the life. He wants to forget all the worries by dissolving himself in the song of the Nightingale. He says to the Nightingale that the bird can never understand human world of loss and suffering. Here youth life fades into an older life of pain and suffering. Here beauty too fades away with age and people who follow the beauty cannot find it durable to rely upon. So their love for beauty also remains for fewer days. Beauty cannot keep herself beautiful eternally because men are mortal. In the next stanza the poet says that-

   “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.

The poet wants to fly with the bird as if it is an escape from the real world. Bacchus is again a reference to the Greek God of wine. The poet says that he does not require wine to escape but the song of the Nightingale is enough to be drowned. He says that he will join the bird with his wings of poetry. It is the power of poetry and good music that it transports us to a world of drowsiness. Thus, poetry and music is an invisible wing which the poet is experiencing. The night is tender and the moon is queen because it is full moon but the Nightingale is in darkness because the bird belongs to a thick forest. The moss present in the forest is winding. Thus, the song of the Nightingale is intoxicated like opium and vintage wine. Poetry flows from such mood and Keats is enjoying the song of the Nightingale. In the next stanza the poet says that-

             “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.”

The poet is so busy that he cannot feel the flowers at his feet. Keats has staged a deep dark and thick forest in this poem. It is actually darkness all around so Keats is unable to see the flowers at his feet. The context in the stanza is about nature and the song of the Nightingale is special in this context. The poet imagines the sweetness of the flower; the grass and the thicket add beauty to the natural surroundings. In the next stanza the poet says that-

             “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.”

This is a very important stanza of the poem because the poet thinks that the song of the Nightingale is so joyous that nothing can replace it and he wants himself to drown in the song. The poet also says that the song of the Nightingale is full of sadness and he can feel it. Until now he has talked about sweetness, wine and happiness but now he is talking about depression and sadness associated with the song. He speaks about death in this stanza. The poet refers the word “darkling” because the Nightingale sings in the darkness at the thick forest. He speaks about death in soft tone. He successfully creates death in his poetry. This death is painless and he wants to die listening to the song of the Nightingale. The bird will keep on singing but the poet will no longer be alive. Requiem is the mass for the dead so the song of the bird will be like a prayer for the dead poet. It seems to the poet rich to die and fade away with the bird because he will be transformed to sod where grass can sprout. Thus, in this stanza he has changed the theme of the poem. In the next stanza the poet says that-

             “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.”

The poet says that he talks about death but the Nightingale is unaware of death because the bird has lived for centuries. The poet calls the bird as immortal because all the generations have heard the song of the Nightingale. Not even the hungry generations have treaded the bird down. Ruth is a character from mythology and she married a man and left her home. Her husband died soon but she decided to look after her husband’s home. Keats says that perhaps Ruth might have also heard the song of the Nightingale. The song of the bird is magical and it can open windows of some fairy land. So at one hand Keats is talking about death on the other hand he says that the bird is immortal. In the last stanza the poet says that-

             “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

         To toll 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?”

John Keats connects the first line of the stanza to the last line of the preceding stanza. Forlorn means loneliness and this word awakes the poet. So this word acts like a bell. The poet realizes that he is back to his senses so he says good bye to the bird. The fantasy created by the Nightingale is great but finally the poet realizes that he cannot be cheated by such fantasies. Elf is a mythological creature related to the fairy. The poet says good bye to the bird and walks away. He can still listen to the song which is fading now. The poet is walking away from the dark woods. Finally he questions that was it a dream or a vision? it seems that the poet is coming out of intoxication.

Critical Analysis

There is a sense of intertextuality in this poem. It seems that the speaker in this poem is suffering from some kind of pain but he speaks about happiness and pleasure. “Being too happy in thine happiness” speaks a lot about the experience of the poet and it seems that the happiness is the source of pain or vice-versa. The poet has used onomatopoeia extensively to create a variety of tone and moods. The reference of intoxication through hemlock or wine suggests the sensuality of the poem. Keats was sensuous in nature or he used to intoxicate himself to have some solace from his illness. The tone of the poem also speaks about the decisive nature of the poet. Keats successfully portrays an illusion created by the song of the Nightingale. There are eight ten line stanzas in the poem. It is interesting to note that Keats has used Iambic Pentameter in the first seven lines of each stanza whereas trimeter has been used in the eighth line of each stanza. The rhyme scheme of the poem is abab cde cde.