The fleeting nature of happiness and youth is one of the great themes in Keats's Great Odes. In the "Ode on a Grecian Urn," for example, he becomes envious of the people depicted on an old pot, because they always remain in the same constant state of joy. In "Ode to a Nightingale," the speaker manages to imagine himself into such a state: the nightingale's world. But the imagination is not powerful enough to carry on the fiction after the nightingale has flown away, and his waking vision ends after only a few stanzas of bliss.
Questions About Transience
Why would nightingales be less transient (or in other words, changeable) than human beings over the course of history?
Is reading or writing poetry any less of a transient experience than drunkenness?
Why are so many plants and flowers featured in the poem, and what might they symbolize?
What do the last two lines mean to you? Why can't the speaker distinguish between being awake from being asleep?
Chew on This
The end of the poem suggests that life might be just as much of a dream or fantasy as the speaker's "waking dream" about the nightingale.
The flowers in the poem symbolize momentary intoxication and fleeting beauty.