Keats' Poems and Letters

Optimism in "Ode to a Nightingale"

In "Ode to a Nightingale," John Keats uses nature and a nightingale as figures for an optimistic view on mortality, and on the speaker's life specifically. Throughout the poem, the nightingale itself is an figure for the beautiful and cyclical nature of life. The natural surroundings serve to illustrate the fertility and optimism that characterize this natural cycle.

In the opening stanza of the poem, the speaker introduces the bird. He describes it with images of happiness and nature, thereby conveying to the reader his appreciation of the natural world and the connection between human and animal life. The wording in this portion of the poem and the use of vivid adjectives that reference fertility and prosperity serve to illustrate the author's optimistic view of the natural world:

That thou, light-wingÃd Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease. (7-10)

The speaker's image of a "light-winged Dryad" and the trees as "beechen green" emphasizes the youth and beauty of the bird. Dryads are mythical creatures typically associated with occasions involving music, dance, nature, and happiness; the allusion thus...

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