Sensuousness in Ode to a Nightingale | Poem by John Keats

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Sensuousness in Ode to a Nightingale
Ode to Nightingale by John Keats

Elements of Sensuousness in Ode to a Nightingale : John Keats(31 October 1795-23 February 1821) was an English Romantic poet. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his works having been in publication for only four years before his death at 25 in the year 1821. Although his poem were not generally well received by critics during his lifetime, his reputation grew after his death, and by the end of the 19th century, he had become one of the most beloved of all English poets.

The poetry of Keats is characterized by ‘sensuous’ uses of language. The sensuousness of Keats is a striking characteristic of his entire poetry. All his poems including his great odes contain rich sensuous appeal. The odes, which represent the highest poetic achievement of Keats, are replete with sensuous pictures. Now, we will discuss his sensuousness with examples of his various Odes and poems in detail.

“Ode to Nightingale” is one of the most remarkable poems of sensuousness. In the second stanza of this ode, there is a description of the gustatory sensation of drinking wine. There are references to the visual and auditory senses too. The poet also paints the picture of a drunken whose mouth is purple stained because of the red wine he has drunk :

“ With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth,”

The descriptions of the wine are so sensuous that we see the bubbling wine, we also hear the dance and sun-burnt mirth; we also get an inkling of the taste of the long cooled wine. In the 5th stanza the poet gives a highly sensuous description of the Nightingale world.

“ I cannot see what flowers are at my feet;
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies onsummereve “

The description of the nature alludes to the sense of sight or its absence(one cannot see); the sense of touch and of smell(soft incense) and by the end of the verse, with the evocation of “the coming musk-rose, full of dew wine”, the sense of taste and hearing have also been incorporated.

In the beautiful sonnet, ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, Keats expresses the intellectual and literary pleasures that he derived from reading of ballads and romances of the olden times. These lines were inspired by his first reading of Chapman’s translation of homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In the octave of the sonnet, Keats intends to express the contrast between his reading of other romance and this first reading of Chapman’s translation of Homer’s epic poems.

Looking into’ gives us a feel for Keats’s sensuous interest in what he reads, and it is no accident that he has chosen a sensory synonym for reading to communicate this – hearing, (Till I heard “), feeling (Then felt I…”), and even perhaps smell (breathe its pure serene’), in addition to sight, enhance the sensory dimension in the Keats per proper Chapman’s words stand up off the page for he looks into rather than reads because perceptive reading involves looking past the two-dimensional surface of words, which renders them lifeless on the page, and seeing them in the three- dimensional depth that can fully realize the Homeric wide expanse. And the poem invites us to read thus: to attend to how Keats reads, rather than exhaustively tracing what he reads to imaginatively flesh out, as it were, the dramatic context in which the act of reading unfolds. But there is an alternative sense of ‘Looking into’, which is also part of the threedimensional depth those words open up. It could allude in-depth research, reading around, cross-referencing, looking up: connotations which tell against the virgin reading, and which point to an oxymoronic conjunction with ‘First. That oxymoron opens up an expanse in time as well as in space by silently implying that there will be, or have already been (from the poem’s perspective of hindsight), other, later ‘looking into’s, which will lead to revaluations of the first in the light of the reader’s enhanced knowledge and experience. Yet experience doesn’t necessarily enhance or enlighten in this poem, and may lead instead back to the flat, somewhat surfeited, feeling of the much travelled speaker’s opening line.

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The possessive of the title and its attendant notions of ownership add to the ambiguity. You can make an author your own, you can harness Homer to your own imaginative ends as both Chapman and Keats do, thus finding a means of getting on terms, of levelling literary power relations – another way in which this poem means to defy gravity, by shrugging off the weighty reputations of the greats that give to what Harold Bloom termed the anxiety of influence. It is further significant, in this connection, that it is Chapman’s Homer Keats reads: in order to be able to touch the text, to breathe its pure serene’, he has to encounter it in an impure form, in translation; to respond in an original way he has to forgo reading Homer in the original, heedless of the purist, and implicitly scholarly, imperatives that would hold the ancient Greek sacred, and would hold with Robert Frost that poetry is what gets lost in translation. The poem can be read as a critique of the various modes of poet-worship that intimidate and inhibit the reader.

Keats was a worshipper of beauty and pursued beauty everywhere, and it was his senses that first revealed to him the beauty of things. The beauty of the universe—from the stars of the sky to the flowers of the woods—first struck his senses and then from the beauty perceptible to the senses his imagination seized the principle of beauty in all things. He could make poetry only out of what he felt upon his pulses. Thus, it was his sense impressions that kindled his imagination which made him realize the great principle that “Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty”

Keats always selects the objects of his description and imagery with a keen eye on their sensuous appeal. This sensuousness is the principal charm of his poetry. A general recognition of this quality leads to the consensus that Keats’s poetry is particularly successful in depicting, representing or conveying ‘reality’ or experience that his poetic language displays a kind of ‘solidity’ or concreteness capable or convincing the reader of the reality of what it communicate and persuading him, almost, to imagine that he is literally perceiving the objects and the experience that the verse describe.

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