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John Keats' Ode to a Nightingale; Analyzing The Third Structure

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“Ode to a Nightingale” Analysis

The third stanza of John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is one of particular significance. The poem is one that praises a nightingale that had built a nest outside of Charles Brown’s estate in Hampstead. The bird symbolizes nature, a thing of beauty and purity, that is juxtaposed by its antithesis of humanity. These lines are written to describe the woes of manhood and humanity in opposition to the goodness that is the nightingale.

The stanza starts with the voice of the poem speaking dreamily about fading far away “21” and wanting to dissolve “21”. He speaks of fully forgetting “what thou among the leaves hast never known” “21.” This aura of mystery is a bit of a cliche in literature, think “he who must not be named” or “the love that dare not speak its name.” The voice of the poem speaks about humanity in a way that wishes to protect the innocence of nature from the knowledge of what it is. The choice to frame mankind in this way could be a way of temporarily reversing the fact that it is too late to truly save nature from mankind’s influence, i.e. civilization, industrialization, etc.

In the next line, Keats utilizes the rule of three to associate words of disease with human nature, like “weariness” “fever” and “fret” “23.” He provides the imagery of men sitting and hearing each other groaning “24”, sitting for they are unable to do anything about the fact that the life of man in an unnatural world comes with its share of woes and trials that all must suffer, albeit unnecessarily, according to romantic era critics, who sees the contemporary structure of their lives to be bad for both the nature it was destroying and the men who created it. After two lines of describing illness and death to both those who are old and young “25 and 26,” the voice of the poem makes the statement that “but to think is to be full of sorrow” “27.” Truly it is a drastic claim to say that one of the most basic functions of a human, to think, brings nothing but misery.

This line could either be expressing two things. The first possibility is that this line is a hyperbole used to indicate the fact that the sorrow that humanity brings is inescapable both by men and nature. The second possibility is that this thinking, an action usually seen as exclusively human, is not simply something basic that brings sorrow on top of everything else, but is something that the voice, a romantic, does and subsequently brings its own special form of sorrow. The romantic poet could easily be lamenting on their own insight into the tragedy of their situation. It could very well be that the poet seems that their radical romantic vision is as much of a burden as it is a gift, since they are surrounded by others who either do not share their ideas or are not aware of the flaws man has created on the earth. Knowledge is pain as much, if more, as it is power to the romantic poet.

Towards the very end of the poem, Keats stops speaking about humanity and mentions “Beauty” “29” in the personified image of a female, mentioning “her eyes” “29.” Beauty is immediately described as being close to but separate from humanity. The poem’s voice claims that she can’t look at the mess that is mankind, and must, subsequently, be turning away, physically disassociating itself from humanity by ignoring it, although it is technically close enough in position to see it in the first place.

Keats would be disagreeing with Burke in his poem, claiming that humanity is not something that is beautiful, and is rejected by “Beauty” herself. He backs this philosophy up with the imagery of sickness and lamenting, pitiful tone he gives to his stanza on manhood in the middle of a poem of praise to a pure creature of nature. It is clear that, in order to truly describe the beauty of nature, Keates needed to take stanza 3 to describe the ugliness that surrounded it.

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John Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale; Analyzing The Third Structure. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from
“John Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale; Analyzing The Third Structure.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
John Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale; Analyzing The Third Structure. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jan. 2022].
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