John Keats' Ode to Nightingale and Negative Capability Are Poems of Feeling

John Keats' Ode to Nightingale and Negative Capability Are Poems of Feeling

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In a letter written to Richard Woodhouse on October 27, 1818, John Keats addresses the idea of his poetic identity. According to Keats, “A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence; he has no identity…creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute-the poet has none; …he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures” (Keats 1818). Therefore, Keats views himself as a poet with no self, writing not from his own identity. In his mind:
“the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort which, if I am anything, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) is not itself-it has no self-it is everything and nothing-It has no character”. (Keats 1818)
Keats differentiates himself from the “wordsworthian” poetic identity, establishing that he writes poetry of impersonality that “records the writer’s receptivity to the uncertainties of experience” (Greenblatt 942n9), rather than “poetry that is evidently shaped by the writer’s personal interests and beliefs” (Greenblatt 942n9). Keats defines this concept as “Negative Capability, further elaborating on its ideas in an 1817 letter to George and Thomas Keats. In order for a poet to understand reality, he must be open minded and be able to dwell on or with “uncertainties, Mysteries, [and] doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” (Keats 1817). Beauty overcomes the need to find definitive answers in the questions raised by poems, and two contradictory ideas can be held in the readers mind simultaneously (Greenblatt 942n9). Keats’ journey into his identity as a poet of “Negative Capability”, can be seen in his poetic works, a prime exa...


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...e next valley-glades” (75-78). The speaker is left wondering whether the entire episode was a vision or an awakened dream, “Do I wake or sleep?” (80).
“Ode to a Nightingale”, is more of a poem of feeling than one of concrete thought. As is usually the case in “Negative Capability”, this poem surrounds the reader with feeling of uncertainty and a constant wonder of what is and what isn’t. When Keats concludes this poem, the speaker and the reader are both left wondering whether this poem or, life for that matter, is a dream. There are no definitive answers and Keats embraces the nightingale’s beauty on an unconscious level. Thus, the reader can see that in order for Keats to create true poetry, he maintains in a constant state of internal conflict, never reaching for facts or reasons, producing poetry consistent with his identity as a poet of “Negative Capability”.

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