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Dominating the poem Essay

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Ode to Nightingale is an antithesis of life and death, with death very much dominating the poem (Keats suffered from tuberculosis, and his description of men suffering in Ode to a Nightingale could indicate that he himself was in great pain when he wrote the poem), whereas The Prelude describes a conflict between man and nature, and Ode to Autumn is simply admiring an aspect of nature. However, Keats and Wordsworth both allude to ideals expressed in the philosophical viewpoint Romanticism.

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Wordsworth thought that the individual could understand nature without society or civilisation, and this is the stance that he takes in The Prelude.

The metaphor of a single person in a boat in the middle of a huge lake represents one person in isolation from society. The mountain that towers over the person in the boat represents the raw power of nature, so much more powerful than a mere human (a Romantic ideal is that nature comes first, while people and their thoughts and activities come second. Wordsworth takes it to extreme in The Prelude with his descriptive comparison of the “huge peak, black and huge” and the “little boat”. The imagery comes across very vividly in the poem, and man seems insignificant when compared with the “huge and mighty forms, that do not live like living men”.)

Keats also expresses his idea of the power of nature, but from a different viewpoint. He does not see nature as raw, wild power that is a colossus compared with trivial humans. He instead regards nature as a friend in suffering (in Ode to a Nightingale: “Now more than ever it seems rich to die…while thou art pouring thy soul abroad…”) and as a thing with its own magic (Ode to Autumn: “Where are the songs of Spring?…Think not of them, thou hast thy music too”)

In Ode to a Nightingale Keats also sees the nightingale as a thing of immense spiritual power, something so powerful that it can trigger his imagination and send him into a fantasy world of “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” where he can forget his pain for a short while, even though afterwards he is forced to realise that his poetry cannot help him escape his pain permanently (“the fancy cannot cheat so well as she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.”)

This is another similarity which the two writers share: they both describe spiritual experiences that have happened to them. Wordsworth describes the effect that the view of the megalith mountain had on him (“but after I had seen that spectacle, for many days, my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being”) and describes his feelings of “solitude” and “blank desertion” that were “a trouble” to his dreams.

Keats uses a lot of very entrancing imagery (“soft incense”, “embalmed darkness”, “pastoral eglantine”, “musky rose, full of dewy wine” and “murmurous haunt of flies” all create a very clear picture of the fantasy world Keats has conjured up in his imagination, influenced by the song of the nightingale) and emotive language (the poem is full of exclamations such as “Away!”, “Adieu!” and “Folorn!” that seem almost like laments, especially in the case of “thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!”) in Ode to a Nightingale, succeeding in drawing the reader into an bond with his thoughts where they can see, hear and smell everything that Keats is experiencing.

This sort of empathy through poetry is very difficult to achieve, though Keats also manages it in Ode to Autumn through his descriptions of “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. Keats does not reflect much on his experience in Ode to a Nightingale, except only to wonder “was it a vision, or a waking dream?…Do I wake or sleep?” However, this last question lets the reader themselves reflect on the meaning of the nightingale (though throughout the poem the references to “easeful death” and “Darkling” make it obvious that the bird symbolises death.)

Keats and Wordsworth have widely different styles of writing. Their poems greatly differ in language form and structure, especially between Wordsworth’s simple language and Keats’ traditionally embellished diction. However, both poets have had troubled times in their lives, and their poems (Ode to a Nightingale and The Prelude) reflect this. They both portray their spiritual encounters with nature as having had a great effect on them, which is in keeping with the Romantic ideals of nature and spirituality. They also express their Romantic views of nature as a source of power, though they have different views on the type of power that nature possesses.

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