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A2 English Literature

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A2 English Literature Keats Compare and contrast Keats's 'Ode to a Nightingale' and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' At the centre of Keats's imaginative achievement lie his odes, in particular 'Ode to a Nightingale' and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'. Owing to the fact that they were written within months of one another, one might reasonably expect to find similarities of interest, theme or mood between them, however unique and distinctive each individual ode may be. What is noticeable about Keats's work is that it can be related to inner conflicts, as love is intertwined with pain, and pleasure is intertwined with death. The dictionary defines an ode as a lyrical poem that praises something or someone, and English odes in particular are written to eulogise a person, music, poetry or even abstract concepts. Being one of the second generation of Romantic poets meant that Keats was able to take liberties with the original form of odes, created by Pindar, which were written to eulogise people such as victorious athletes. Keats's own odes are arguably much more personal owing to the fact that he is known for his habit of taking something abstract as a starting point to explore and reflect his state of mind. ...read more.


One critic has claimed that the sense of transience often conveyed in Keats's poetry is created "by the structural device of framing, which creates a feeling of perspective,". It has been argued that vivid dream-images of love and beauty are placed behind a foreground or framework of history or reality, which makes for a sense of loss and distance. Keats draws heavily on classical in 'Ode to a Nightingale', alluding to the mythical Lethean River and the fountain of Hippocrene, as well as the Goddess Flora and the God Bacchus. The Lethean River was one of the five rivers that were believed to lead to Hades and to drink from it led to oblivion. In context of the ode, Keats implies that he feels as though he is sinking towards death owing to his heartache and feeling of numbness, "as though of hemlock I had drunk." His reference to the Flora, the Italian Goddess of flowers and spring in the second stanza, links to the wine Keats's speaker drinks and also relates to his allusion to the fountain of Hippocrene, which was the mythical fountain of the muses who drank from it to gain inspiration. Keats's referral to the God Bacchus, the God of wine, relates to the context of Keats's wish to "fly to thee," the nightingale, without the necessary help of alcohol, "Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards," and even makes a biblical reference to Ruth in the seventh stanza. ...read more.


The suppression of 'Ode to a Nightingale' is matched in 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', and in many ways, can be said to be companion poems. In the later poem, the speaker confronts a created art-object not subject to any of the limitations of time, whilst in 'Ode to a Nightingale', Keats's speaker achieves creative expression through the nightingale's song which is spontaneous and without physical manifestation. In conclusion, though there are both evident similarities between the two odes, it is clear that their differences outnumber them. Whilst 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is much more formal, 'Ode to a Nightingale' is arguably the more personal, if not the most personal out of Keats's odes. Perhaps it is the opening of the ode with the statement "My heart aches" that makes the ode appear subjective, whilst 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' combines both subjective poetic expression but also objective historical expression. Although similar in format, the odes differ in their rhyme schemes and also it is the many paradoxes of 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' that differentiate it from the 'Ode to a Nightingale'. One of the many paradoxes found in this ode is that of the urn itself, as it is silent but is also said to be a "historian" that can communicate. Ultimately, one can appreciate that there are a variety of comparative and contrasting elements of the two odes, however individual each one may be. ...read more.

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