Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nightingales and Opiates

Let me start off by saying that Keats is quite possibly my favorite poet. I choose to believe that Keats wrote "Ode to a Nightingale" in one sitting, just because it makes him more of a genius in his tragically short life.
Keats was very aware of the presence of death in his life, due to the fact that his father died when he was a child from a fractured skull after falling off a horse, and his mother, uncle, and brother Tom all died from Tuberculosis. Tom's death hit him especially hard because he survived while his brother did not. (this is from my presentation research).

Therefore, the fact that his poems all seem to mention death is not unusual. Mary Beth made a good point that the topics he chooses for his odes are not exactly celebratory. In fact, in "Ode to a Nightingale," he becomes angry at the nightingale for "being too happy in thine happiness," that the nightingale has no cares and "singest of summer in full-throated ease." I think he uses the Nightingale's song as his opiate to escape his illness, for he was dying at the time he wrote this. However, at the very end, he doesn't even know if the nightingale's song was real or if he imagined it all. He no longer knows the difference between dream and reality (much like Dequincey).
"Was it a vison, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?"
Despite the fact that his physical pain seems to go away when he flies away on the "viewless wings of Poesy," which serves to say that his imagination and escape are not substantial and will eventually fade, just as he will eventually die. Even in his escape, he suffers a kind of emotional pain, and he shows images of "sad beauty" because their beauty is not real.
I feel like listening to "Ode to a Nightingale" would enhance the poem's ethereal sadness. Just listening to "When I have fears" and "This Living Hand" made a greater impact in the poem's meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty sure Keats is my favorite, as well. I also totally agree on the "song as an opiate" point. Although, I kind of disagree with your interpretation of "sad beauty." I think he used this phrase more because of how the sounds/images reminded him of what he'd miss once he passed, and that realization had to be completely sobering.