Ode to a Nightingale (1819)

From: An introduction to ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, by Stephen Hebron (British Library website):

“…The weather in the summer of 1819 was exceptionally fine. Keats was living in semi-rural Hampstead; he had fallen in love with his neighbour, Fanny Brawne, and was enjoying a period of fruitful and confident composition. ‘O there is nothing like fine weather’, he wrote to his sister Fanny in May, ‘and health, and Books, and a fine country, and contented Mind, and Diligent-habit of reading and thinking’ (17 April). Keats’s friend and housemate Charles Brown later recalled a particularly memorable day that month. A nightingale had built a nest near their house and one morning Keats, who been delighted by the nightingale’s song, sat under a plum tree in the garden and remained there for several hours, composing. He eventually returned with some scraps of paper which, according to Brown, contained the ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’

…‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is not, however, a simple description of arcadian bliss, but an intense meditation on the contrast between the painful mortality that defines human existence and the immortal beauty found in the nightingale’s carefree song; and it considers poetry’s ability to create a kind of rapt suspended state between the two…”…

The penultimate stanza of the poem runs:

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.

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