Keats' Poems and Letters

Reconciling Mortality and Immortality in John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale"

In John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," a despairing speaker overhears a nightingale in the depths of a far away forest. The speaker yearns to leave behind his physical world and join the bird in its metaphysical world. The nightingale sings of a world where there is no pain, there are muted senses, and life is immortal: the opposite of the speaker's domain. The speaker considers joining the nightingale's world of immortality by means of alcohol, death, and finally by creating art of his own. John Keats explores these themes in "Ode to a Nightingale" to illustrate the speaker's battle with the reconciling of conscious and unconscious worlds. The major theme in this poem focuses on the reconciling of many opposites as Richard Fogle summarizes in his article, "Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale":

The principal stress of the poem is a struggle between ideal and actual: inclusive terms which, however, contain more particular antitheses of pleasure and pain, of imagination and commonsense reason, of fullness and privation, of permanence and change, of nature and the human, of art and life, freedom and bondage, waking and dream. (Fogle, 211)

While all of these opposites play against one...

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