The interplay of dreams and reality is frequently found within John Keats' poems.

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The interplay of dreams and reality is frequently found within John Keats’ poems. In these poems, Keats uses his imaginative literature to help him to escape from the real world. Keats’ mind drifts between an almost permanent and unchanging dream world full of great beauty and perfection, in comparison to reality, where he believes everything is subject to mutability and decay. Through this Keats presents a regret that nothing in reality lasts forever as although the world is full of beauty this beauty shall not last. Particularly in the poems, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and “Ode to Nightingale,” Keats presents this regret of impermanence strongly. Thus, through this interplay of dreams and reality Keats portrays his interpretation of the world. As Fred Inglis argues in his book ‘Keats,’ by contrasting himself with the ‘detached’ poet, Keats defined his poetic process as a complete absorption of his whole being in the object of contemplation, so that he lost his own ‘identity’ and took on its nature. Keats himself in fact, often refers to the idea of the “chameleon poet.” I believe this helps Keats to fully explore his idealised dream world and thus demonstrates effective use of interplay between dreams and reality.

        Keats explores this world of idealism steered by the active imagination, and fuses reality with an imaginative ideal world. H.W. Garrod, author of ‘Keats’ believes that Keats preferred to remain with ‘poetry of reality’, eschewing this ‘world of idealism’, and through doing this the author believes Keats was able to dabble in the politics of republicanism and discuss his own views on the world. Thus it is necessary to examine both the relationship of dreams and reality found in Keats’ poems and the significance if dreams in Keats’ presentation of the world.



Firstly, it is necessary to study the interplay between dreams and reality in the poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ by Keats. This poem is concerned with a deep sense of sadness which is portrayed through a beautiful immortal dream world in contrast to impermanent reality filled with pain and suffering. I feel that through this technique, Keats envokes a sadness which is almost like a melancholic beauty, and has both a calming influence and a sense of deep sadness. In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ Keats uses this interplay of dreams and reality to present his view of the world and even though this poem seems almost to create an acceptance of sadness, I find it inspiring in a way as we realise sadness is part of our human condition, and he has somehow managed to create beauty out of this sadness. I believe Keats does this through the interplay between a dream world and reality.

        The poet questions means of escaping life and Keats idealises the nightingale with its beautiful birdsong in his mind throughout the poem. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ traces the disintegration of this experience, and the poet’s attempts to sustain it rather than his inevitable return to the mutable human world. The nightingale symbolises a fantasy and perfect world for Keats in which he wishes to remain. Keats questions poetry, wine, the birdsong and death as possible means of escape, whilst dealing with his own regrets and anxiety about our human world. I believe these fantasies and possible means of escape help to portray Keats’ view of the world.

        In the first stanza the images are nearly all of anesthesia: “drowsy numbness”, “dull opiate” and “hemlock.” There are also references to an aching heart and to pained senses which suggest the sorrow of the human condition and reality, sorrow which is sweetly augmented in such moments when the nightingale sings its song, when dreams and the imagination take the poet out of himself and conduct him into a dream world of pure, unchanging spirit.

        In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ Keats longs to follow the nightingale into this dream world, and escape reality. His first means to escape reality is that of wine. He invokes the spirit of wine in the second stanza with sensual and passionate word choice: “deep-delved earth,” “Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth,” and “purple stained mouth.” I believe that this also creates a natural, rural and pastoral image. Keats often makes effective use of these themes of nature, love and music in his poems. Like the poem ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ when Keats enters an almost dream world, the word choice and strong feelings create a great sense of richness and energy.

        In the third stanza wine has proven to be an illusory means of escaping reality and Keats’ mind returns to the horrific realities of the real world, which he seeks to escape. These realities include suffering, age, death, illness, decay and sadness. Keats creates a sense of sadness in relation to his view of reality. He does this through skilful use of vocabulary, “leaden-eyed despairs,” “full of sorrow,” and “hear each other groan.”  Unlike the nightingale and the urn in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ in reality there is decay and inconstancy: “Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.”

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        It is the problem of decay in reality which the song of the nightingale particularly transcends, and the poet, yearning for the immortality of art, seeks another way to become one with the bird: “Away! Away! For I will fly with thee, Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retards.” Poetry is the next means of escape.

        Here, I believe the metaphorical significance of the bird seems most clear. I believe that the nightingale is symbolic in that it represents the immortality and beauty of Keats’ ...

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