Our Creative Imagination has the Power of Transcendence

In the Ode to a Nightingale (Stanza 1): Keats describes his reaction to a nightingale’s song while sitting in a garden. So intense is his happiness that it paradoxically produces pain and a dull feeling, and he longs to be united with the bird’s song.

(Stanza 2): Like an epicure, Keats longs for a wine which will contain all the rich pleasures of summer suggested in the bird’s song. It should be the matured red and sparkling wine of Provence, in southern France.

(Stanza 3): A draught of the wine would, he hopes, enable him to fly away with the bird and share its happiness, far away from the actual world of sorrow, illness and death.

(Stanza 4): But soon Keats rejects wine for something more akin to the ethereal nature of the bird’s song – his poetic imagination. He imagines that he has achieved union with the bird’s song which has now become united with the heavenly moonlight.

Already with thee! Tender is the night

And haply the Queen Moon is on her throne,

Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays.

(Stanza 5): But of this moonlight he can catch only occasional glimpses due to the thick foliage overhead. Sitting in the darkness, Keats extracts not only imaginative delights from the fitful moonlight, but also sensual delight from the garden’s bounties, all his senses being receptive except that of sight.

(Stanza 6): Since Keats’ happy state is only momentary, he now longs to make it permanent through ‘easeful death’. *(Stanza 7): But he soon realizes that death would effect only complete separation from the bird’s song which is immortal. Its song has charmed all down the ages.

(Stanza 8): Here Keats’ musings abruptly get broken and he is brought back to reality, leaving him wondering whether his imaginative transport was real or illusory.

In this ode, Keats explores three different modes of escape from reality – wine, imagination and death – but each is found wanting.

The Nightingale ode recalls many distinctive qualities of Keats. He is sensuous in his responses, his senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch being all keenly sensitive. He is romantic in his longing to escape from the sad human lot to an immutable world of happiness. He is romantic, again, in his love for the medieval past. He is Hellenic in his love for the Greek mythology. Lastly, he is a believer in the transcending and creative power of Imagination.

Source by Bhaskar Banerjee

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