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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 16

Reading Assignment: Odes

    Keats: Odes
      Ode to a Nightingale (346)
      Ode on Melancholy (348)
      Ode on Indolence (349)

      DUE: Group B: Post 8

POEM TO ANNOTATE: Ode to a Nightingale

    Class Objectives:

  • Appreciate in their complexity the great odes -- Nightingale

  • Complete our study of Keats' technique by charting his progress and analyzing the form of the ode

    We have saved the best for last! Your first job for this week will be to read and SAVOR the odes of Keats. For this class, we will focus on "Ode to a Nightingale," but read "Melancholy" and "Indolence" for contrast and enjoyment. Read the main odes (Grecian Urn, Nightingale and Autumn) more than once, twice, even three times. Become familiar with the poem as a meaningful set of stanzas that communicate to you -- some see these as process poems, others as symbolic arguments. Understand as best you can what is happening in these poems. THEN -- Promise me that you will read them out loud, slowly and deliberately -- enjoying the beauty of the sensation.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions



    Continue to consider questions on form:

    Ode: A single, unified strain of exalted lyrical verse, directed to a single purpose, and dealing with one theme. The term connotes certain qualities of both manner and form. The ode is elaborate, dignified and imaginative. In form the ode is more complicated than most lyric types. (from Holman and Harmon's A Handbook to Literature).

    Recall Keats' dissatisfaction with the sonnet form, especially the "pouncing rhymes" caused by repeated couplets. Bate shows us how Keats integrates Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet forms into a new stanza for the odes: "This ten-line stanza starts with a single Shakespearean quatrain (a b a b) and, instead of continuing with the alternate rhymes of more quatrains, concludes with a Petrarchan sestet (c d e c d e): "pouncing rhymes," "elegiac" alternate rhyming, and concluding couplet tags are all avoided. This is the essential pattern of the four odes that follow -- the "Nightingale," the "Grecian Urn," "Melancholy," and "Indolence." He now had a form capable of extension for a poem many times the length of a sonnet, yet one that was also 'interwoven and complete'" (Bate 498).


    Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn

    While the ode generally involves a single unified theme, critics have recognized in these odes more of a debate or drama of ideas. Bate, in his introduction to the collection of Twentieth-Century Views on Keats, says that these odes, written in April and May of 1819, "may be said to begin the modern lyric of symbolic debate" (4).

    Each poem is built upon a symbol -- recall from Perrine and Oliver what a symbol is -- with a voice that speaks to the poet. Examine the symbols of each poem and the debate that engages the poet.

    Kipperman writes in his biographical essay on Keats, "it is the nature of poetry, unlike painting -- a distinction we know Keats often debated with Haydon -- to create its meaning sequentially" (206). How does this happen in each of the odes?

    "For this is no simple dialogue of the divided heart with itself before two choices. Divisions of loyalty and sympathy are forced upon it by the inevitable nature of things, and only as the poem evolves; and the drama emerges through the actual experience that the 'greeting of the Spirit' and its object -- however eager the spirit -- can never be complete or lasting. Nor are the limitations solely the result of our own finite nature. In each poem the dominant symbol -- the urn, the song of the nightingale -- is given the major voice and offered the every resource of empathy and hymnal tribute that the poet can bring; and it is as much through its own limitations as through those of the finite spirit attempting to approach it that hesitation, question, even misgiving, begin to arise" (Bate, 500).

    What is the inevitable nature of things that the poem represents and that acts as a limitation to the human spirit?

    What are the limitations of the urn and the nightingale that initiate the misgivings and questions?

    David Perkins discovers in the progress of these two Odes a "process" -- an imaginative escape initiated with the symbolic "death" of the poet (drowsy numbness) that leads to the desire for permanence and the limitations/impossibilities of that state. Chart the "process" of ideas in each of the poems. What are the central positions explored? What is resolved, if anything?

    Douglas Bush writes: "At first sight Keats's theme in the Ode to a Nightingale and the Ode on a Grecian Urn -- the two cannot be separated -- is the belief that whereas the momentary experience of beauty is fleeting, the ideal embodiment of that moment in art, in song, or in marble, is an imperishable source of joy. If that were all, these odes should be hymns of triumph, and they are not. It is the very acme of melancholy that the joy he celebrates is joy in beauty that must die" (Twentieth-century views, p. 25). Comment.


    David Perkins suggests that the difference between "vision" and "dream" in the last lines of "Nightingale" is the difference between "truth" and "illusion." How does this affect your understanding of the poem? How does this poem develop the Keatsian interest in the role of poetry?

    Recall Kipperman's reading of "forlorn!": "With these beautiful words the poem turns about, the word forlorn shocking the poet into awareness. The beauty of an imagined "long ago" suggested by this word (forlorn = "long ago") turns by a sad pun (forlorn = "sad") into a remarkable moment of pained self-consciousness" (206).

    Of the lyric "Belle dame sans merci" Kipperman writes: "More fundamental, though, is Keats's growing sense, here and in his letters, of the dark ironies of life, that is, the ways in which evil and beauty, love and pain, aspiration and finitude, are not so much 'balanced' as interwoven in ways that resist philosophical understanding." He goes on to suggest that these questions are not answered in the odes; rather the poems "explore the ironies of our attempts to answer them and of poetry's attempts to articulate them" (203). What does this mean? To what extent do you agree?

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