Give a detailed analysis of the imagery used by Keats in “Ode to a Nightingale.”


Answer: John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is a wonderful romantic poem. In the poem, the poet pays tribute to the nightingale as the incarnation of liberty and as a living symbol of the felicity of life. In the poem, the poet explores the question of human sufferings and presents a contrast between ideal and real, between art and life. Another important aspect that makes the poem even more attractive to the readers is its sensuous description of nature. The poem bears ample testimony to Keats’s romantic sensuousness and the pictorial quality of his poetry.

“Ode to a Nightingale” is one of the most remarkable poems of sensuousness The second stanza of the poem is full of sensuous description of drinking wine In the stanza, the poet expresses his intense desire for a beaker full of the warm South’ as a mode of escape into the beautiful world of the bird’s song Phrases like `blushful Hippocrene’, ‘beaded bubbles winking at the brim’ and `purple-stained mouth’ evidently suggest the colorful and sensuous evocativeness of Keats’s poetic art. The whole stanza is a description of the gustatory sensation of drinking wine.

The fifth stanza of the poem is again full of sensuous description of nature or the Nightingale’s world:

“I cannot see what flowers are at my feet;
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”

As the poet, with the help of the ‘viewless wings of Poesy’, transports himself in the dim dark forests where the nightingale dwells, we find that Keats’s description of nature is replete with images rich in the typically Keatsian flavor of romantic sensuousness. The nocturnal darkness is called ‘verdurous gloom’, the darkness of the forest being given a greenish tinge. As the poet imagines to have a journey across the forest, he fancies moonlight filtering through the foliage; the moon shining in the sky clustered around by the stars is mythologized as the ‘Queen Moon with all her starry fays’. The description appeals to almost all the senses.

The poet cannot see anything inside the dark forest. His visual sense is present but is non-functional because of the ‘verdurous gloom’. The darkness, however, cannot pose any obstacle to the sense of smell. The poet’s sense of smell makes him visualize the flowers at his feet — the white hawthorns, the musk-rose, the violets, and the eglantines. The sense of touch is also in action. The poet’s feet touch the flowers that grow in the forest. But, the most wonderful example of Keats’s sensuous depiction of nature is the phrase, ’embalmed darkness’, an image that combines the visual with the olfactory: the darkness of the nightingale’s forest-haunt made fragrant with the smells of the flowers is compared to the fragrant interior of the grave. Keats’s sensuous imagery of nature thus often transcends the sensational to migrate to philosophical thought.