25 Nov




One may be forgiven for mistaking Keats’s poem for an allegory on drink and hallucinogenic substances; the desperate cries of an addict – when one reads between the lines – wishing he could escape his own unfortunate terminal situation. Through alcohol and opiates his cares, he hopes will, be riven and he’ll finally be at one with the natural world. Ode to a Nightingale is in fact a pathetic fallacy; an allusion to the intoxication of nature replete with leafy bowers and rich with the scent of eglantine.

His pen focusses on the sounds of nature, the call of the wild if you will. He senses that there’s more to the world than just the physical and that by accessing it he’ll be able to experience a very different, care-free reality. Unlike Tennyson who describes nature as red in tooth and claw Keats, being the Romantic that he was, professes the juxtaposition that nature is a harmonious paradise.

The beauty of the poem is the aerial flight that one experiences whilst reading it. Keats allows the reader to travel with him across the hills and valleys, streams and rivers, forests and fields, thanks to his intense representation. The experience, although cerebral, is a literary virtual reality where one senses and participates with nature through his words. That he’s able to generate such a brilliant splash of imagination is the true strength of his writing and the reason for the enduring popularity of the verse.

The poem is an idyllic representation of nature engendering clean crisp imagery, and an appreciation of the great outdoors. Who doesn’t want to hear bird song, to appreciate verdant grasslands and lush forests? The world we live in, as we often fail to recognize, is not for private gain but for all and is the commonwealth of man. Property is theft and land ownership and the natural resources that go with it belong to the people of the world and not to corporations. When we see oil spewing from oil rigs in the Gulf decimating sea life and killing the environment for years to come, then it’s hard to picture a nightingale singing in a forest. The hypocrisy of literary appreciation versus reality is profound. How can one profess to enjoy romantic imagery and not be offended by the ecological nightmare that’s being committed on our behalf? Keats words are surely the opiate of the masses, the alcohol he so desires within his stanzas, the mind blurring elixir that makes the reader forget the relevance of environmental stewardship. Maybe the poem is prophetic and although the birdsong has endured for all time, perhaps it’s time as a commodity that we’re running short of? The irony is that when the last nightingale has sung we’ll still have Keats!



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