Ode to a Nightingale

1My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
3Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
5'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
6      But being too happy in thine happiness,--
8                In some melodious plot
10           Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
12      Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
17           With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
18                And purple-stained mouth;
19      That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
20           And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
21Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
22      What thou among the leaves hast never known,
23The weariness, the fever, and the fret
24      Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
25Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
27           Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
28                And leaden-eyed despairs,
29      Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
30           Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
31Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
34      Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
35Already with thee! tender is the night,
36      And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
38                But here there is no light,
39      Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
40           Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
41I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
42      Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
44      Wherewith the seasonable month endows
45The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
47           Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
48                And mid-May's eldest child,
49      The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
50           The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
52      I have been half in love with easeful Death,
53Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
54      To take into the air my quiet breath;
55           Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
56      To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
57           While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
58                In such an ecstasy!
59      Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain--
61Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
62      No hungry generations tread thee down;
63The voice I hear this passing night was heard
64      In ancient days by emperor and clown:
65Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
66      Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
68                The same that oft-times hath
69      Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
70           Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
71Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
72      To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
73Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
74      As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
75Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
76      Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
77           Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
78                In the next valley-glades:
79      Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
80           Fled is that music:--Do I wake or sleep?

Notes

2] hemlock: a poisonous plant which produces death by paralysis. Back to Line
4] Lethe: a river of the lower world from which the shades drank, and thus obtained forgetfulness of the past. Back to Line
7] Dryad: a wood nymph. Back to Line
9] beechen: of the beech tree. Back to Line
11] draught: what can be swallowed in a single drink. Back to Line
13] Flora: the goddess of flowers, here used for flowers themselves. Cf. Keats' letter to Fanny Keats ca. May 1, 1819: "O there is nothing like fine weather ... and, please heaven, a little claret-wine cool out of a cellar a mile deep -- with a few or a good many ratafia cakes -- a rocky basin to bathe in, a strawberry bed to say your prayers to Flora in" (Letters, II, 56). Back to Line
14] Provençal song. In the early Middle Ages the poets of southern France, the troubadours of Provence, were particularly famous for their love lyrics. Back to Line
15] warm South: a southern wine. Back to Line
16] Hippocrene: a fountain on Mount Helicon in Boeotia, sacred to the Muses. Back to Line
26] Tom Keats died of consumption on Dec. 1, 1818. Back to Line
32] Bacchus and his pards: the Roman god of wine, whho traditionally is shown in a conveyance drawn by leopards. Back to Line
33] viewless: invisible. This phrase appears in half a dozen poems from 1765 to Mary Robinson's "The Progress of Liberty" in 1806 (II, 426). Back to Line
37] Fays: fairies. Back to Line
43] embalmed: full of balms, or perfumes. Lines 43-49 appear to echo Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, II.i.249-52 The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin, 2nd edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997):
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine ...
Back to Line
46] pastoral eglantine. Eglantine is properly the sweet-briar, though popularly applied to various varieties of the wild rose. "Pastoral" presumably because often referred to in pastoral poetry. Back to Line
51] Darkling: in the dark; cf Milton, Paradise Lost, III, 38-40: "As the wakeful Bird/Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid/Tunes her nocturnal Note." Back to Line
60] high requiem: a liturgical song for the repose of the dead. Back to Line
67] alien corn: alien because Ruth was not an Israelite but a Moabitess, gleaning in the barley fields of Judah (Ruth 2:1-2). Back to Line
Original Text: 
Annals of the Fine Arts (July 1819). Republished in John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820). Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1970. PR 4830 E20AB Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
Publication Start Year: 
1820
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire; J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.649.
Rhyme: 
Form: