Study Guide

Ode to a Nightingale Mortality

By John Keats


The speaker of "Ode to a Nightingale" fools himself into believing that the nightingale is immortal, or at least its song is. But this statement seems only to give him another excuse to complain about human mortality – a common complaint in Keats's poetry. The nightingale's song echoes through generations of history, from Ancient Greece to Biblical times through the present. Keats was maybe the most "romantic" (notice the small "r') of the British Romantic poets, and he might have agreed with the saying that you shouldn't trust anyone over thirty. It seems that the worst aspect of death is not that old people must die, but that young people must turn into old people who die. The poem seeks an escape from this cycle.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Is the speaker afraid of death, or he is just afraid of old age? How are death and old age treated differently in the poem?
  2. What does he mean by calling the nightingale "immortal"?
  3. Why is the speaker "half in love" with death in stanza 6?
  4. Is he being serious when he says that he wouldn't mind dying at midnight to the nightingale's song? How can you tell?

Chew on This

The speaker's desire to die alone in the forest is just rhetoric, the equivalent of a drunken person who gets carried away in the heat of the moment.

The speaker cannot integrate himself into the natural world because he is too afraid of the natural process of death.