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Opposition Through Similarities in Keats Poetry

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Essay title: Opposition Through Similarities in Keats Poetry

John Keats poems “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” seem to have been written with the intention of describing a moment in one’s life, like that of the fleeting tune of a nightingale or a scene pictured on an urn. Within each of these moments a multitude of emotions are established, with each morphing from one to another very subtly. What is also more subtle about these two poems is their differences. While they do touch on very similar topics, the objects used to personify Keats’ ideas on death and immortality differ and the ideas represented by them do diverge at different points in the poems as well. Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” touches on the indefinable and puzzling relationship between art and life. Paradoxically, it’s the representation of the urn, which would usually be associated with a characteristic melancholy, stillness, and grief caused by death, which is shown to be indicative of life. In “Ode to a Nightingale” a supposed happiness is being connected to the nightingale while its song contradicts the heavy weight of human sorrow and illness, and the transient quality of beauty and youth. This is clear in the line, “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird” (line 61), the nightingale is not associated with mortal elements. The odes do seem similar in several ways because in both Keats does portray symbols of immortality and the avoidance of death, as well as the spectrum of emotions from grief to joy. However, the symbol of the nightingale is an object of nature found in reality while the urn is an object of fantasy, a work of art. Both these poems require differing senses to be able to understand them. By comparing and contrasting the aspects of each poem, it is clear that all the elements relate directly, but differently to human spirit and human emotions.

The urn and the nightingale are staples of immortality. They are symbols representing the everlasting quality of nature and art respectively. In the “Ode to a Nightingale” John Keats distinguishes the bird’s immortality as being different than the mortality of human beings. “Here where men sit and hear each other groan; /Where Palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, /Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies,”(lines 24-26). The nightingale, which brought pleasure to generation after generation has become an immortal creature, so much so that the sound that the poet heard was heard in ancient days by an emperor and a clown, by a woman named Ruth, and also by fairies. However, it is possible that the only reason the speaker knows this is because the bird is showing him a vision of the afterlife, in which all these people exist. How else would the speaker know that all of those ancient people heard the bird as well? The urn of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a large container, sculpted and covered with Greek figures that stands as a testament to time while not being marked by time’s passage indicated by the line, “THOU still unravish’d bride,”(line 1). As a “Sylvan historian”(line 3), it provides documentation of a distant, past culture. While the urn does exists in the real world, which is forever mutable and subject to change, the life it is picturing is unchanging, a moment frozen in time while the time around in continues.

Next, the poet fuses imagined relief, the unconscious joys found in art and nature, with realistic pain. To escape from the pain of this reality, the speaker starts to move into a world consisting more of imagination. When he hears a nightingale, he begins to long for good wine from southern France. This desire is not an attempt to get drunk, but rather to reach a state of mind, that will allow him to better appreciate the pleasure of the beautiful bird’s company, indicated by the line “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, /And with thee fade away into the forest dim:” (lines 19-20). However, the poet realizes that he doesn’t need wine to be able to appreciate the bird, so he instead decides to fly to the nightingale using his poetry. “Away! away! for I will fly to thee, /Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, /But on the viewless wings of Poesy…And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays”(lines 31-33,36). In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the Keats experiences the life represented on the urn and puzzlingly comments that the urn “dost tease us out of thought/As doth eternity” (lines 44-45). By teasing the speaker “out of thought” the urn takes him from a realistic world to an ideal, fantasy world. In the lines “What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? /What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?,”(lines 9-10) the poet gets caught up in all of the excitement and activity involved in this fantasy world and turns himself into an active participant in the picture on the urn rather than just a curious observer. He gets emotionally

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