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Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Ode to Autumn

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Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Ode to Autumn


The casual reader of John Keats' poetry would most certainly be impressed by the exquisite and abundant detail of it's verse, the perpetual freshness of it's phrase and the extraordinarily rich sensory images scattered throughout it's lines. But, without a deeper, more intense reading of his poems as mere parts of a larger whole, the reader may miss specific themes and ideals which are not as readily apparent as are the obvious stylistic hallmarks. Through Keats' eyes, the world is a place full of idealistic beauty, both artistic and natural, who's inherent immortality, is to him a constant reminder of that man is irrevocably subject to decay and death. This theme is one which dominates a large portion of his late poetry and is most readily apparent in three of his most famous Odes: To a Nightingale, To Autumn and on a Grecian Urn. In the Ode to a Nightingale, it is the ideal beauty of the Nightingale's song - as permanent as nature itself - in the Ode on a Grecian Urn, it is the perfection of beauty as art transfixed and transfigured forever in the Grecian Urn - and in the Ode to Autumn it is the exquisiteness of the season idealised and immortalised as part of the natural cycle - which symbolise eternal and idealistic images of profound beauty.



In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats uses the central symbol of a bird to exemplify the perfect beauty in nature. The nightingale sings to the poet's senses whose ardour for it's song makes the bird eternal and thus reminds him of how his own mortality separates him from this beauty. The poem begins: "My heart aches, and a drowsey numbness pains" (Norton 1845). In this first line Keats introduces his o...


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...fused by the true essence of his subjects; for a bird must die and an urn must crumble and are but symbols of things imagined. Keats however, does discover his elusive eternal beauty in his Ode to Autumn, realising that it is mother nature, with her ever recurring seasons and perfection of purpose that is profoundly beautiful. Growing, maturing and dying are no longer avoided in Ode to autumn, they are embraced and accepted as necessary for the continuity of the seasons cycle. Keats, through his poetry, is constantly reminding us that the moment, whether short of duration or eternally present, is to be savoured; for all things that exist in man's world are subject to decay and death because our ability to perceive them is limited. The world is no longer simply a place of song birds, pleasing art and fruit laden trees, but a world of profound and everlasting beauty.

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