William Wordsworth’s ‘To the Cuckoo’ and John Keats’ ‘Ode to a nightingale’ are comparable in many different aspects. The two poems have striking similarities and appear akin to one another. Both poems are likely to be written in related styles; both Wordsworth and Keats wrote in the same era, and were both Romantic Poets. They are also both poets of similar stature and regarded to be of similar ability.
They both talk of similar a subject matter, a bird that is personally special. There are parallels to be drawn, but there are also many ways in which the poems contrast. It becomes clear that both poets perceive and respond to their subjects rather differently, and that the poems differ in meaning, direction and quality. The nucleus of both poems is a bird, Keats writes of a nightingale and Wordsworth of a Cuckoo.
Birds are very modest and insignificant creatures, yet both poets have used them to extensively express emotion. To these poets their respective birds are extraordinary and important. Neither poet refers to one particular creature, but they both use the species of bird representatively. It is not their fondness for the bird as if it were a pet, a domestic animal, but their fondness of the free animal species that inspires them.
It is important to acknowledge that although both poets, especially Wordsworth enjoy using lavish description, neither describes the physical appearance of the bird. They are both using the birds as metaphors, as symbols. Wordsworth makes the bird “an invisible thing/ a voice, a mystery” He does not see the bird, he can only hear it. This is to enhance the metaphorical strength of the bird. Keats similarly does not feel the need to describe the nightingale. Whereas Wordsworth does this to make his image more mystical and ambiguous, to Keats it does not matter what it looks like, it is the nightingale’s spirit he writes about.
He talks primarily about its manner and its ways. Wordsworth also makes the cuckoo seem more divine and more powerful by using “Voice” and “Cry” with capital letters. This makes the sound of the cuckoo personify the bird and what it represents. The cuckoo is not regarded as beautiful physically, so he chooses to show it and even call it by its voice, “O Cuckoo! shall I call thee bird, Or but a wondering Voice”. Keats also points out the nightingale’s singing capacity, creating audible and not only visual imagery, “Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
” The way the two poets perceive and react to their subjects is where the two poets vary greatly. It is relevant that in ‘Tintern Abbey’, Wordsworth says the following: “Of eye and ear, both what they half create, And what perceive” Both poets do follow this idea. They use imagination to expand on what they see and do so in different directions. The fact that Wordsworth does not see the Cuckoo means he can invent and expand greatly. Both poets are clearly partial to the birds, but show different attitudes towards them.
Wordsworth longs for the bird, he needs the bird and is fond of it. Keats insists he is not jealous, “Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thy happiness” However, he certainly shows contempt towards the bird and expresses an unhappy longing which borders on envy. In essence, the bird is part of Wordsworth. It is part of his past. He is yearning for his past so he longs for the cuckoo. The cuckoo is the symbol for his past. It is something he has left, something that has not changed. “The same whom in my schoolboy days, I listen’d to”