Come a-knocking on Death’s door

Stanza four of Ode to a Nightingale, depicts that Keats will let the nightingale fly away and not follow it through alcoholic means (‘Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards’), but through poetry. This he feels will give him ‘viewless wings’. The forest opening in which the nightingale flies into is also described, when even the moonlight cannot shine through due to the thick covet of trees, but the light can break the sharp darkness of the glade when the breeze blows the branches away. During the fifth stanza Keats cannot see any flowers but guesses that they are ‘in embalmed darkness’.

Straight into the sixth stanza, Keats feels that he has been ‘half in love’ with the concept of death and he has called Death soft names in many rhymes. Continuously surrounded by the nightingale’s intoxicating song, the speaker believes that the prospect of death seems more secure than ever, and he wishes to ‘cease upon the midnight with no pain’ while the nightingale prances merrily with its soul. If Keats were to die he would have ‘ears in vain’ as he could no longer hear the tune of the nightingale, as it would never cease to sing.

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The seventh stanza, shows the speaker telling the nightingale that it is immortal and that it wasn’t ‘born for death’. Keats describes the continuous flight of the bird way from him in stanza eight, as he can no longer hear the soft melodious tune. He can no longer recall the sweet music and deliberates whether it was ‘a vision, or a waking dream’. He mentions the ‘swallow’ that recall the nightingale in his other ode: To Autumn. This shows that he has not forgotten what he previously saw, but he remembers what had aroused such great anticipation and emotion.

The tail of Ode on a Grecian Urn – the fourth stanza – illustrates another scene on the urn, this one being a group of villagers leading a heifer to be sacrificed. ‘To what green altar, O mysterious priest… ‘ depicts that Keats is in a wondrous state, as he wishes to know where they are going and where they have come from. He thinks that the little town will be ‘for evermore’ silent, since the citizens on the urn will never be able to return as they are frozen onto it. In the final stanza, the speaker – likely to be Keats himself – addresses the urn itself by making comparisons to Eternity, as they both ‘tease us out of thought’.

He ponders over the thought that when his generation has been long gone, the urn will continue to reside to tell the future children its enigmatic message: ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’. The only thing for the urn to do is to continue to hold that moral in between its earthy clay. The form of Ode to a Nightingale is no different to most other odes, as it is written in ten-line stanzas. Nonetheless, unlike other odes, it is metrically variable. This means that all the lines except the eighth are written in iambic pentameter, with five stresses in each line.

The eighth line on the other hand has only three stressed syllables meaning it is in trimeter. Furthermore, Keats uses his most basic rhyming scheme of ABABCDECDE. He has also split the first four lines to form a quartet, leaving the latter six lines to form a sestet. Ode on a Grecian Urn has a strict rhyming scheme for the first seven lines, though it starts to vary more in the last three lines of each stanza. Like Ode to a Nightingale, it is metered in relatively precise iambic pentameter, and divided into a two part rhyming scheme of ABABCDE.

Though, the next CDE rhyming scheme differentiates to that of the previous one. Each stanza has a variation of the CDE rhyming, with the DCE in stanza one and five, CDE in stanzas three and four, and CED in stanza two. As in other odes, especially To Autumn, the two-part rhyming scheme creates the sense of a structured story; the quartet roughly defining the topic of discussion and the sestet developing the chain of thoughts. I think that Keats relies heavily on the imagery created when his poetry is read. Strong and vivid images are painted in the centre of one’s mind.

All through out Ode to a Nightingale, I got the feeling that it was a romantic poem with the artistic flare of a rash and indecisive youth. The ambivalence led to a higher questioning of what was beyond life and the simple circle. For Keats to leave the Earth he needed a mode of transport and his vehicle was indeed the nightingale. The dream trance that the nightingale fist creates is strengthened by the soft repletion of the’s’ sound – ‘drowsy numbness pains my sense’. The ordered tone of the ode suggests his contentment at simply gazing at the bird fly around him.

He also captures the tranquil yet graceful movement of the ‘Dryad’ by the smooth ‘e’ and ‘m’ sounds in the last two lines of the first stanza. The second stanza reveres the appeal of an intoxicating cold drink. The oxymoronic situation is created when Keats contrasts the warm southerly origins of the drink, with its cool refreshing taste. The rhythm of the ode also starts to speed up as his excitement thunders on; his use of apostrophes is an indication of this: ‘… she be fair! ‘ The thought of a sparkling drink is generated by the alliteration in ‘beaded bubbles’.

The mention of the hospital ward accentuates the suffering and anguish; this is aided by the slowing down of the rhythm, which symbolises the ‘fever’ and ‘fret’. The beauty of the nightingale differs from the pain of the ‘palsy’ sufferer. I loved the personification used to describe beauty: ‘beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes’ and the idea of ‘love pining’ was a saddening touch. The beginning of the fourth stanza is marked with the speeding up of the rhythm. He has made his decision to fly ‘Away’ with the inspiration of the nightingale.

The picture of this concept is enriched by the murmuring sounds of the ‘m’ and ‘s’. This alliteration is what some say adds the extra depth to the odes by John Keats. The beauty of nature is fully explained as he picks the ‘eglantine’ – a wild enchanting rose. The notion of being ‘sod’ or earth bound suddenly appealed to Keats as he varies between the free flight of the bird and the dark soil. He is not sure as to whether he should follow his heart or his head. He is so close to going straight and meeting Death at its door, but his heart wants him to be free.

Just as the Grecian Urn achieved a permanent state of immortality, a physical entity such as the nightingale has managed to accomplish it too. Keats then compares his situation to that of ‘Ruth’ – in reference to the Book of Ruth in the bible, where a girl is in despair as she is lost. All she wants to do is reach home: a source of security and comfort from all the evils outside. His return back to reality is as immediate as the flight of freedom in which he left with the nightingale: ‘fancy cannot cheat’.

He could only experience the joy and contemplation of freedom for only a couple of seconds before he was wrenched back into his dying body. His eyes follow the nightingale until it has completed disappeared from view, he is unsure of his state of consciousness, ‘Do I wake or sleep’. Ode on a Grecian Urn will also leave a lasting impression on the reader’s mind. The images that are conjured in his ambivalent contemplation are so full of detail and mystery, that the reader still has food for thought – or poetry for thought – so to speak.

There are many interesting philosophical ideas conveyed in a short space. It is a very sincere ode which has added gravitas by the littered concepts of death and ageing. Keats is able to get straight to the point without having to include a waffling introduction. This particular factor makes me venerate Keats’s courage to face such an adversity as death with bold poetry. The fact that Keats is trying to make sense of a caption which has been passed down for centuries is amazing because he takes his own interpretation of the urn to make his own unique art.

This is the very characteristic of Keats which many an artist tries to emulate. His choice of setting: ‘Arcady’ or ‘Tempe’, are famous for their particular aspects of striking beauty. The repetition of questions at the end of each verse builds up a gradual tension, lingering until it reaches the climax. His way of imagining a tune that could be played by the pipes in stanza two is a remarkable way of expressing his idea that ‘melodies are sweet’, but those unheard are much sweeter. The glamour of the world of imagination is more attractive than the reality.

The concept of being frozen is that nothing will change from its state of immense magnificence, the trees will never be bare and the pipes will continue to play. However, with that notion, Keats is frustrated, he wants the man to touch, but he never will. Yet, he feels that it is indeed better this way as a downward spiral of depression follows the moment of elation. Therefore, he leaves the ideal romance in place for the anticipation of what is to come next. To the viewers of the urn, the girl will always remain pretty and he will always love her, never will there be such a thing as old age and disease.

Time will not be allowed to wreak havoc onto a perfect scene. ‘Cold pastoral’ is a static scene yet it is imagined to have life and the possibility of the inanimate object breathing life and giving an icy shiver to anyone who touches it. The concept of the ‘Beauty is truth, truth is beauty’ is the thing that Keats wishes to keep alive. He has cheated death by storing a message in an object which will still continue to live as long as many generations decide to keep it. As the artist and poet, Keats found a purpose in life and he mused over what was to be and what had happened.

Consequently, I have compared both the odes with a rough link to the third ode To Autumn. Now, to decide which one I have perhaps liked or enjoyed the most. This would be very difficult as both similar though they were, attacked different aspects of freedom and death. Therefore, the one that creates the most intense and passionate picture in mind is the one I can most empathise towards and so it would be the one I prefer. Having defined the concept of “favourite” ode, I can say that Ode on a Grecian Urn sparked the boldest emotions in my mind when I read through it.

I felt as if were on the urn itself, I was the maiden stuck in time. I reason that I could feel what Keats felt. One may argue that I am only young and have lived a care free life up to now, however, I think I am still able empathise with Keats, understand his mental anguish as he wished to escape and was prepared to go knocking on Death’s door just to become as free as the citizens on the urn. His descriptive and powerful language is perhaps enough to captivate anyone into thinking like him.

I may not have experienced life to the full, but then again, Keats didn’t either. He died at a very young age and people at the time didn’t really have a life expectancy longer than forty years. Being fifteen at this moment in time, I can sometimes contemplate that death is inevitable and facing it could be the better option, than hiding from it. Yes, indeed, youth is a time to enjoy oneself, but only the urn is saved from the wrath of time. Soon it will be Death coming to knock on our doors, or could it be the other way round?