Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale

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  • “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk…” Explain the occasion in which the poet experiences this kind of sensations.
ANS: As Keats listens to the song of the bird nightingale alone in the poem Ode to a Nightingale, he experiences euphoric ascent of joy to such an extreme degree that it ultimately leads to the feeling of pain at his heart. He compares his state of numbness to that being created by the administration of the legendary poison given to Socrates, Hemlock, which would set in rigor mortis in the human body.

  • “Or emptied some dull …had sunk.” What is Lethe? Why does Keats invoke its image?

ANS: Lethe was the river of the lower world in the Greek mythology, which the dead had to cross in order to reach Hades or hell. Crossing this river would cause a complete loss of memory of what happened in the world. Keats invokes the image in order to convey the sense that the nightingale’s song made him oblivious of the real world.

  • “Tis not through envy…happiness…” Why does the poet say so?

ANS: in the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats says that feels the pain of joy and sense of numbness not because of the jealousy of the better fate of the bird, but because being too happy in its singing.

  • “That thou light-winged Dryad…in full-throated ease.” What does ‘Dryad’ mean here? Explain the situation Keats describes.

ANS: According to the Greek mythology, a Dryad was a wood nymph that inhabited a tree and kept watch over it. Just like a Dryad, the Nightingale is not visible and it is thought to be somewhere in some green grassy spot full of beach trees, the branches and leaves of which have created countless shadows. In this kind of natural setting the bird is singing the songs of summer spontaneously oblivious of the cares of the human world.

  • “O for a draught…sunburnt mirth!” Explain the poet’s desires expressed in the lines.

OR, Explain the expressions “Provencal song” and “sunburnt mirth.”

ANS: in order to join the nightingale’s world of pure joy, Keats here in the poem Ode to a Nightingale fancies the help of the wine produced in Provence. The wine, stored in a cool place under the earth, would, the poet hopes, remind him of the flowers used in making it, and of the green countryside, the place of its production. He also fancies that in that he would be able to visualise the dance and the song of merry-making country people of Provence, whose skins become tanned working in the sun.

  • “O for a beaker of wine…the world unseen.” What is referred to here as “the blushful Hippocrene”? why does the poet seeks the help of “a beaker full of warm South”?

ANS: In order to join the nightingale’s world of pure joy, Keats here in the poem Ode a Nightingale fancies the help a large cup of wine produced in the warm southern region. He compares the red wine full of bubbles to the fountain of the Muses, created by the hoof of the winged horse, Pegasus on Mount Helicon, the dwelling-place of the Muses, and the round-shaped bubbles to the beads of a rosary. This also reminds him of the red mouth of the drinker coloured by red wine.

  • Explain the expression “purple-stained mouth.”

ANS: In order to join the nightingale’s world of pure joy, Keats here in the poem Ode to a Nightingale fancies the help of a large cup of wine produced in the warm southern region. This reminds him of the mouth of the drinker, which becomes purple, that is, the colour of blue and red mixed together, by red wine.

  • “Fade far away, dissolve…among the leaves hast never known.” What does the poet mean by “among the leaves”? What, according to the poet, are the things that the nightingale has never known?

ANS: In these lines from the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats expresses his wish to be transported to the ideal of Nature, where the nightingale lives, with the help of wine, because he thinks that human world is full of exhaustion, anxieties, ennui, diseases, sorrows, sufferings, impermanence and imperfections.

  • “The weariness, the fever…groan.” Where do these lines occur? What does the poet want to mean by this?

“Where palsy shakes …dies.” Where are these lines quoted from? Explain the significance of the lines.

ANS: In these lines from the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats expresses his wish to be transported to the ideal of Nature, where the nightingale lives, with the help of wine, because he thinks that in the human world everything is impermanent. Man soon in the course of time grows old and becomes afflicted with paralysis and with few grey hairs on their head creeps towards death. Again, some times young men, suffering from diseases like consumption, lose their health, become bloodless and thin as ghosts and die. (Keats might have written the line from his personal experience of the way his brother, Tom died of consumption.)

  • “Where but to think is…leaden-eyed despairs…” Explain.

“Where Beauty cannot…beyond tomorrow.” Where do these lines occur? Why does the poet despair of life so much?

OR, Explain the significance of the lines in the context of the nightingale’s song? Why are the words ‘Beauty’ and ‘Love’ capitalized at the beginning of the letters?

ANS: In these lines from the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats expresses his wish to be transported to the ideal of Nature, where the nightingale lives, with the help of wine, because he thinks that in the human world everything is impermanent and subject to decay and death. For instance, physical beauty does not last long and soon loses its brightness. In the same way love is also short-lived. As soon as the thirst for somebody is over, the person seeks some body else for new love. (The words are written in capital letters at the beginning of the words because the poet personified those.)

  • “Away! Away! … viewless wings of Poesy.” Explain the expression “viewless wings of Poesy.

OR, What does the poet mean when he intends to “flee/ Not charioted by Bacchus…Poesy”?

ANS: In the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats suddenly rejects the idea of joining the nightingale’s world of pure joy with the help of wine or by riding the chariot of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, which, according to the Greek mythology, was driven by leopards. He intends to join the bird with the help of his poetic imagination, which is ‘wingless’ in the sense that it is invisible. (And he finds that he is already in the world of the nightingale.)

  • “…tender is the night…winding mossy ways.” Explain the natural atmosphere described by Keats.

ANS: As the poet John Keats listens to the song of the bird, he becomes conscious of the immediate environment. He finds the night calm, and he presupposes that the moon might be over the head and shining brightly surrounded by the fairy-like stars. As it is shaded by the branches and leaves of the trees, the moonlight cannot enter the place he is seated in, barring occasionally when the breeze moves the leaves of the trees, and it falls on the paths overgrown with moss.

  • *Explain the expression “embalmed darkness”.

ANS: The place, where the poet is listening to the song of the nightingale is dark, because it is shaded by the thick braches and leaves of the trees. That is why, he cannot see the flowers or blossoms, but he can feel their presence from the sweet smells emitting from around him. In this way, the darkness of the place has become “embalmed” or sweet smelling.

  • “The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine…on summer eves.”

“Darkling I listen…” Where do you find the expression? What does the poet mean by that?
“…for many a time…become a sod.” Explain. (Any question from these lines.)

ANS. While listening to the song of the nightingale Keats becomes intoxicated with pure joy and his agony of life gets transformed into ecstasy. At this moment he recalls that many a time he has longed for death and given to it many names in his poems. If he were to die at all, he thinks that it is the most appropriate moment for that. But even after his death when his body will be one with the earth, the bird will continue its song, which will be a funeral song for his death.

  • “Thou wast not born for death…emperor and clown.” Explain the context in which the poet utters these lines.

ANS: While listening to the song of the nightingale, Keats becomes conscious not only of the sorrows and sufferings of the human world, but also of his own death. This leads him to contrast this world with that of the bird, which, that is, whose song has remained the same from the ancient down to the modern times and appealed in the same way to all, irrespective of classes, from the beggar to the emperor.

  • “Perhas the self same song…sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home.” Who was Ruth? Why does the poet refer to her in the poem?

ANS: In the Old Testament Ruth has been described as a Moabite married to a Jew, whose death forced her to migrate to Bethelhem with her mother-in-law. She had to work there as a gleaner in the fields of a wealthy person, Boaz, whom she married later on. Keats imagines that the bird might have sung in the way to Ruth and soothed her soul when she was suffering from homesickness as it is singing now to him.

  • “Charm’d magic casements…in fairy lands forlorn.” Explain the situation imagined by the poet. What does the poet mean by the expression “Charmed magic casements”?

Or, Explain the grammatical structure of the lines.

ANS: As an immortal bird, Keats thinks in the poem Ode to a Nightingale, the nightingale must have sung and soothed the soul of the beautiful maidens, who have been made captive by some wizard or monster in the castle just on the cliff overlooking a dangerous sea in a far-off fairy land.The word ‘Charm’d’ is a verb here and its object is ‘magic casements’, which stands for the beautiful maidens standing in front of the ‘casements’ or windows and listening to the song of the nightingale.

  • “Forlorn! The word is like a bell…sole self.” Where do the lines occur? What is the context of the exclamations?

ANS: Towards the end of the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats suddenly comes to realize that the bird’s song aroused his imagination and transported to its world of pure joy and made him forget about the harsh realities of the world. Now he wakes up from his daydreaming and sadly finds himself alone in the world full of “weariness, fever and fret.”

  • “Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat…deceiving elf.” Why is fancy called “deceiving elf”?

ANS: Towards the end of the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats suddenly comes to realize that it was his imagination that transported him to the nightingale’s world of pure joy. But soon its power gets over and the poet is forced to come back to the world of harsh realities. This is why he compares imagination to a fairy, who transforms the world only for a short while.

  • “Was it a vision…sleep?” Explain the significance of the lines here.

ANS: Towards the end of the poem Ode to a Nightingale Keats suddenly comes to realize that the bird’s song aroused his imagination and transported to its world of pure joy and made him forget about the harsh realities of the world. Now he wakes up from his daydreaming and sadly finds himself alone in the world full of “weariness, fever and fret.” That is why he wonders whether all this is happening in his sleep or in conscious state.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you,sir.
    -Subarna Dutta

  2. Sir, itz very helpfull for us… But Sir I think the answer of the questions are a bit lengthy.. Sir if you provide us a bit short then We will very glad… Sir I told that because in our ssc paper the space for answers is a limit space and we have to write a limited note.

  3. Anonymous

    Sir , your notes are …….sorry sir, actually , you are very helpful to us.
    – Chintu Haldar

  4. Anonymous

    Thaaaaaank u sir…..really your works is very helpful to us…..

  5. it's extreme and awesome. Thank you sir

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