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This shows the author’s view on beauty. He is ambivalent about the permanence of beauty. Keats believes although there is pleasure in beauty, as he says in Endymion ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, beauty is not perfect everywhere. As he is dying, he sees that beauty in people is ephemeral, unlike the figures on the Urn whose beauty ‘cannot fade’ and the nightingale’s song which is so old it may have been heard by ‘the sad heart of Ruth’, a biblical figure.
He takes solace in beauty that doesn’t fade: the beauty of nature and art, like both the vase and the birdsong.
This is what helps Keats to have his self-thought theory of negative capability, the movement from doubt and uncertainty towards serenity and fulfilment, as beauty partly alleviates the pain caused by his disease. The second theme is death. As Keats had tuberculosis, he coughed up blood and suffered from fevers regularly, which makes it impossible for him to forget his impending death.
He envied those who could escape it. The figures on the Urn would always have love that is ‘still to be enjoy’d, nature would retain its ‘verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways’ and the nightingale is lucky to not be ‘born for death’.
However, in Ode to a Nightingale Keats thinks of a way to escape death. He can ‘fly to’ it through his poetry, which because it is an art, like the urn and the nightingale’s song, it can survive forever.
The structure of both odes is very similar, although Ode to a Nightingale has three more stanzas than Ode on a Grecian Urn. This is because the former examines more ideas than the latter. Each stanza begins with a quatrain, always with the rhyme structure of ABAB. It is followed by a sestet, whose rhyme structure varies, but is at least similar to CDECDE. This mostly strict structure was used so the poet could organise his turbulent emotions.
There is a regular rhythm in Ode on a Grecian Urn in iambic pentameter. This is almost the same in Ode to a Nightingale, apart from on the eighth line, where it is in iambic trimeter. This is perhaps to mimic the slightly intermittent sound of a nightingale’s song. The tone of both odes is similar when compared to other poetry, but each is slightly different. The tone of Ode on a Grecian Urn starts out as questioning: ‘What men or gods are these? ’, as the poet tries to understand what is on the vase. Then, the speaker becomes jealous of the ‘happy, happy love’ the urn’s people will always be anticipating.
He is also reminiscing of his own youth, where he asked Fanny Brawne to marry him. Unfortunately, he could not marry her at the time because of financial circumstances and later, he grew too ill to ever get married. This is particularly apparent when he depicts a ‘Bold lover’ chasing a girl who can ‘never, never’ be with. Towards the end of the poem, Keats’ tone becomes more solemn as he realises when he and his generation are gone, the urn ‘shalt remain’. Ode to a Nightingale begins more sombrely than its counterpart, as Keats describes his terrible physical state, partially due to opium: ‘a drowsy numbness pains /My sense’.
He then becomes wistful, similar to his emotions during the other ode, as he hankers for ‘a draught of vintage’. Like Ode on a Grecian Urn, he becomes jealous of the nightingale, who doesn’t worry about ‘The weariness, the fever, and the fret’ of humans. The ode then becomes more dark than the other was, as he talks of being suicidal, or ‘half in love with easeful Death’. The poem ends in a dreamy way as it slows, as the poet wonders whether the nightingale was just ‘a vision’.
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