My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 
       My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
   Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
       One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
   'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
       But being too happy in thine happiness,--
           That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
               In some melodious plot
       Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
           Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

   O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
       Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
   Tasting of Flora and the country green,
       Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
   O for a beaker full of the warm South,
       Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
           With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
               And purple-stained mouth;
       That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
           And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

   Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
       What thou among the leaves hast never known,
   The weariness, the fever, and the fret
       Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
   Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
       Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
           Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
               And leaden-eyed despairs,
       Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
           Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

   Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
       Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
   But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
       Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
   Already with thee! tender is the night,
       And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
           Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
               But here there is no light,
       Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
           Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

   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 grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
       White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
           Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
               And mid-May's eldest child,
       The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
           The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

   Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
       I have been half in love with easeful Death,
   Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
       To take into the air my quiet breath;
           Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
       To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
           While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
               In such an ecstasy!
       Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain--
             To thy high requiem become a sod.

   Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
       No hungry generations tread thee down;
   The voice I hear this passing night was heard
       In ancient days by emperor and clown:
   Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
       Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
           She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
               The same that oft-times hath
       Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
           Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

   Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
       To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
   Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
       As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
   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:
       Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
           Fled is that music:--Do I wake or sleep? 
- John Keats

If one sits down to read John Keats’s poetry after a long day, with a mind busy with thoughts but a body laden with tiredness, the opening line of ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ strikes a chord: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My senses…” Even the unexpected and disjointed “my senses” seems appropriate to the condition described by the speaker. The immediacy of conscious thought is also present in the self-absorbed reverie of the first person voice. However, we cannot preserve this state of mind if we are to truly understand the beauty of this poem. As we move away from this first stanza the speaker meanders through a maze of ideas, where the last line of one stanza often instigates the opening of the next, and if we attempt to grasp some underpinning string of logic in the poem we will inevitably fail and feel rather lost. But the ephemeral quality of the Nightingale's song that we are alerted to at the end of the first stanza leads us away from the heaviness of conscious thought. Through the description “light-winged Dryad of the trees,” we are transported away from our immediate reality, and hence encouraged to enter a trance-like state. This trance-like state is the very beauty of the poem. Keats challenges us to separate our conscious thoughts from our subconscious feelings; only in achieving a trance-like state of mind are we able to follow the flow of the poem rather than struggle against it by seeking logic. It is as if the inhale and exhale of a breath that we are lead to spontaneously oscillate between emotional oppositions; one moment there is the lively rhythm, movement and colour of “Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!” and the next moment we descend to a slow, agonising remembrance: “where men sit and hear each other groan;/ Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs.” As the poem progresses the words of the poem itself seem to become the Nightingale’s song. It is easy to imagine the rhythmic repetition and crescendo of “Away! away! for I will fly to thee” as two accented notes in the birdsong, embodying this feeling of escapism. Even the imagery of the following words “on the viewless wings of poesy” seems to blend the bird and the poem into one form. Just as birdsong and poetry become one, the power of this trance-like state seems to make all things harmoniously blended. So much so, that even death and immortality become blended thoughts. The nightingale’s song moves to a mournful tone that reminds the speaker of a requiem. But this very mournful tone is the precursor of the following lines: “Perhaps the self-same song that found a path/ Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home… The same that oft-times hath/ Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam…” Through these lines the nightingale’s song is extended to the past, and also to the uncertain future beyond the “magic casement” – and hence achieving immortality. The speaker must eventually return to reality, as must we, but at the end of the poem it is the remembrance of the beauty of that trance-like state of mind that is remembered “Do I wake or sleep?” and the ache and numbness we empathised with is not only relieved but long forgotten.

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