Some things at a time like this take on a certain significance in one's life. This is due to the lack of freedom, as normal movements taken for granted, have been removed. ln moments like these l find myself turning to poetry as a source of inspiration or simply as a kind of consolation.
John Keats (1795-1821) was certainly one of the greatest English poets whose genius has been compared to William Shakespeare. Keats built his objects from his imagination, creating objects inside his head as a kind of celebration of the inner senses. Since Keats was such a sickly individual, dying at the age of 26 years of age of tuberculosis, his ability was to create magnificent fragmentations by his genial creative use of his imagination. We, in our present state of isolation, can profit enormously from what Keats instructs us to do - the personal and creative use of our imagination.
Keats visits many different vistas of foreign places but as a poet through 'the viewless wings of poetry' as he would say. In one of his greatest odes, he does exactly that. In “Ode to an Nightingale” Keats again through his creative use of his imagination describes the effects of the Nightingale’s song as so intense as to resemble a drug:
'My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock l had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains.’
This anticipates Keats' desire to escape from the pains of human life and so to follow the Nightingale into the forest:
'That l might drink and leave the world unseen
And with thee fade away into the forest dim’.
Keats then embarks on an imaginary journey into the Nightingale’s world to escape from human sorrows:
'here where men sit and hear each other groan
Where palsy shakes a few sad last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin and dies'.
The next verses are masterly registered in terms of touch, smell and hearing:
'I cannot see what flowers are at my feet
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows'.
The emergence of Keats advocating a death-wish seems unusual but maybe understandable in that:
'‘I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain.’
However, Keats knows that the Nightingale is mortal like himself since both are subject to mortality. But the Nightingale’s song is immortal- it survives in every generation, that same intense beauty entranced kings and peasants alike and its song found a path, ' Through the sad heart of Ruth' who was comforted by this song in exile.
In the last verse, Keats begins with the word 'forlorn'. Here we have Keats’ conflicting feelings - the tension which is embodied in his desire to vanish the Nightingale as a 'deceiving elf' and his uncertainty of human existence:
'Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music- do l wake or sleep'.
Keats’ poem shows the embodiment of an imaginary, powerfully attractive ideal, a dream of perfect happiness, measured against the distresses and uncertainties of real life.
Ode to a Nightingale