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Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

Fantasy and Travel

Symbol Analysis

This poem is the ultimate dream of escapism. The speaker needs a getaway, and he uses his mind to do it. His fantastical imagination allows him to experience night from the nightingale's perspective, surrounded by dark and fragrant trees. It takes him back through history and into the realms of fairies and magic. But, by the end, the speaker's imagination fails to keep the bird from flying away, and he turns on his own "fancy" in anger. For the Romantics like Keats, "fancy" was just a synonym for imagination.

  • Lines 31-33: The speaker uses the metaphor of flight to describe his imaginative journey to join the nightingale. He will fly on the metaphorical "wings" of his own poetry.
  • Line 35: The speaker somehow arrives at his destination. Wait, when did that happen? Our advice: just go with it. Note: "tender is the night" is not an allusion to an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel – Fitzgerald's novel is an allusion to this poem.
  • Lines 36-37: Keats indulges in pure fantasy in this metaphor comparing the moon and the stars to a queen surrounded by her female attendants.
  • Lines 45-48: As he explores the fantastical forest, the speaker uses several images of plants and flowers.
  • Line 60: Hasn't everyone imagined what their funeral would be like at some point? The speaker imagines his death, and uses metaphor to compare the song of the nightingale to a musical composition called a "requiem," which is performed after someone's death.
  • Line 61: The speaker talks directly to the nightingale, which obviously cannot hear or respond. This poetic technique is called apostrophe.
  • Lines 63-66: The speaker imagines that the same song of the nightingale has been heard throughout history, and he alludes to the Book of Ruth in the Bible in order to express the song's deep and piercing sadness.
  • Line 70: He imagines the bird flying out an open window over the remote ocean in a fantasy world filled with "faeries".
  • Line 74: In frustration, the speaker turns on the personified idea that has made this whole poem possible: "fancy," or imagination. He compares fancy to a mischievous little elf who likes to fool people. In this case, the trick is making the speaker think he could ever join the nightingale.
  • Lines 79-80: At the end of the poem, the speaker cannot decide what is real and what is not. He asks two rhetorical questions to express his confusion.

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