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Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale


by John Keats

Stanza 8 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 71-72

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!

  • Oh, no! Why did he have to use the word "forlorn?" It reminds the speaker of how he has also been abandoned – by the nightingale itself.
  • All of a sudden, he gets sucked back into the normal world after several pleasant stanzas of exploring the nightingale's realm.
  • For him, the word "forlorn" is like, when you are having a really great dream and then all of a sudden you hear your alarm clock and remember that you have to wake up and go to class. It's a big disappointment.
  • The speaker is pulled back into his own mind, his "sole self."

Lines 73-74

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.

  • He admits that his attempts to use his imagination ("fancy") to "cheat" his way into the nightingale's world have not been as effective as he would have liked. He bids good-bye to the bird and then lashes out at his imagination for being a "deceiving elf," like the character Puck from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Although "fancy" is famed for being able to create new worlds, the speaker has not been successful at permanently escaping the everyday world.

Lines 75-78

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:

  • Now it becomes clear that the nightingale is flying away.
  • The speaker bids goodbye twice more to the nightingale using the French word, "adieu," which means, "good-bye for a long time."
  • The bird's sad or "plaintive" song grows harder to hear, as the bird flies from the nearby meadows, across a stream, up a hill, and into the next valley. Now he can't hear it at all.

Lines 79-80

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

  • Now that the bird is left, the speaker's not sure if he ever entered its world at all. He thinks that maybe the experience was just a "waking dream" and not really true.
  • But has the speaker returned to the "real" world? Maybe the nightingale's world was reality, and the "real" world is just a dream.
  • Everything is topsy-turvy, and he doesn't know what is true from what is fancy. He wonders if he is a awake or sleeping.

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