It's been some time since we did a 'famous' poem...
(Poem #316) Ode to a Nightingale
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 Provencal 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?
We haven't had much Keats on the Minstrels - only two poems prior to this, as a matter of fact. Which is surprising, given his stature - long-time readers of the Minstrels will know that I don't care much for the Romantics, but I do like Keats. A great deal. 'Nightingale' is possibly Keats' best-loved work (though personally I prefer 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer', which I think is about as close to perfection as a poem can get) - I know several people (Hi Mom!) who consider it among their favourite few poems of all time. And it's no surprise, really - rarely have words been crafted to such sublime effect; rarely have sound and meaning and feeling come together in such perfect balance; rarely have phrases sounded so _right_, so perfect that you get the feeling that they've always existed, and all the poet did was to pluck them out of the ether, fully formed. In a way, that's what Keats is all about. Not for him the metaphysics of Shelley, the lushness of Byron, the down-to-earth genius of Wordsworth, or the flights of fancy of Coleridge: Keats is, in the truest sense of the word, a minstrel of the emotions. Perhaps more than any other writer before or since , he had the ability to distil in its purest form that quality called 'poetry' in his verse. He doesn't use ornate or flowery language; his rhymes and rhythms are often less than perfect; his themes can be ordinary. And yet his words are just magical - sheer music. thomas.  always excepting Shakespeare PS. The science-fictionally inclined among you are heartily encouraged to read Dan Simmon's Nebula-winning novel 'Hyperion', which (as the title suggests) is about (among many other things) John Keats. PPS. Alert readers will have noticed some repetition of ideas from my previous commentaries on Keats. Forgive me.