Would you like to help us?
Find out more No thanks
This is a copy of one of the most famous poems in the English language, John Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819), probably in his brother George’s handwriting. Along with ‘Ode on Indolence’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ and ‘Ode to Melancholy’, it is one of five great Odes Keats wrote in spring 1819.
Having expressed frustration with the sonnet form in the poem ‘If by dull rhymes our English must be chained’, and finding the available forms of the ode – a poetic address on a subject – similarly restrictive, Keats developed an ode better suited to the language. It consists of a stanza of 10 lines of pentameter, opening with four lines (a quatrain) rhyming a b a b, and closing with six lines (a sestet) of various rhyme schemes.
Keats had discussed nightingales on a famous long walk with Coleridge in April 1819, and his friend Charles Brown remembered him sitting for ‘two or three hours’ listening to a nightingale which had nested near Brown’s house, and emerging with a version of the poem. Leigh Hunt’s series of articles The Calendar of Nature (1819) has also been suggested as an influence.
Various biographical interpretations can be made, from ‘youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies’ (line 26) as an echo of Keats’s brother Tom’s death in December 1818, to the whole poem being a record of an addiction to opium developed in the process of nursing Tom, or the theme being related to the disappearance of natural life in London’s suburbs during the industrial revolution.
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’s groan.
Where palsy shakes a few sad last grey 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,
Tho’ 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,
Thro’ verdrous glooms and winding mossy ways.
Stephen Hebron explores Keats’s understanding of negative capability, a concept which prizes intuition and uncertainty above reason and knowledge.
What is melancholy? Stephen Hebron examines changing ideas about the emotion, considering Keats’s suggestion that we embrace melancholy as inextricable from pleasure.
The Romantic period was one of growing interest in ancient Greece. Stephen Hebron explores how this shaped the subject matter and forms of the era’s poets.
John Keats (1795-1821) composed this poem one morning in early May 1819, when he was still mourning the death of his ...
Both Hyperion and the revised version The Fall of Hyperion are unfinished allegorical poems. The drafts were written ...
This volume by John Keats (1795-1821) was published in July 1820. It included: the three narrative poems listed in ...