An Ode for Halloween


October 30, 2015

Just before Halloween is an excellent time to read a melancholy poem. John Keats' Ode to a Nightingale is posted below in its entirety as a lead into the idea of death and spirit.

Like many authors, death haunted British poet, John Keats. Many of his friends and relatives died at a young age, and Keats himself died at the age of twenty-five from tuberculosis. Up until that age, Keats had studied both literature and medicine. His interest in literature grew and by the age of eighteen, Keats began publishing serious poems and dedicating most of his time to poetry. His circle of friends included philosophers, poets and artists. Today's poem, Ode to a Nightingale, was published in May of 1819, shortly after burying his younger brother, Tom. Keats also became very ill in the later half of the year and for the rest of his life struggled with health.

John Keats' Ode to a Nightingale is a classic example of the ode form, a lyrical poem. Historically, odes were sung, which makes the nightingale an even more fitting subject for Keats' poem. In this poem, the power of death arrives, ironically, through the tender notes of a nightingale. Keats begins his poem while listening to the final strains of a nightingale's song. Once the bird stops singing, the song disappears for all except the listener. In this dual presence, the song is able to exist as some form of spirit separated from body. What a lovely idea to celebrate on Halloween.

Visit our blog again next week when we will break apart this poem in order to better understand the various ideas.

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

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 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:
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 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?


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