In the following poems of Keats, Shelley and Hardy the voice of the poet forms a central and fundamental part of the poem. The focus of this essay will be the following three poems: “Ode to a Nightingale”, “To a Skylark” and “The Darkling Thrush”. A common subject in all three poems is the birds. All of the birds are seen as god-like symbols and are more than just a symbol of happiness. All three of the poems have a sense of yearning; they all want to be carried away by the bird’s inspirational song.
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Keats begins the poem by first outlining the importance and how distinctive the voice of the poet is in the poem, “Ode to a Nightingale”. The general mood of the poem starts when Keats first attempts to escape from the painful reality of being stuck in a bleak, colourless, physical world which he describes in a mournful and sombre tone. The melancholic tone that Keats outlines in the poems is established from the opening two lines:
His opening and repetition of “My” in the first sentence focuses the attention directly on the poet. The choice of vocabulary Keats chooses ‘drowsy and numbness pains’ emphasises how lethargic and tired the poet is. The poet writes the first sentence with long vowels which reinforces the forgetfulness and idleness the poet is experiencing. Keats is desperate in wanting to fade away from society. “Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget”. The word “dissolve” shows his extreme anxiety to get away from the pain of the real world unnoticed. Keats’s uses the technique of alliteration to show us his irrepressible desire and yearning to break free of the harsh realities of life. Keats wants to leave the world fading away by the tranquil sound of the birds “melodious” song and inspirational figure.
Hearing the nightingale’s song, the speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. Keat’s first thought is to reach the bird’s transcendent world is through the use of alcohol in the second stanza in which he longs for a “draught of vintage” to take him out of this world. But after his meditation in the third stanza on the trapping of human life he doesn’t seem to want to be ‘charioted by Bacchus and his pards’ (Bacchus was the Roman god of wine) but he wants and craves to be with “the viewless wings of Poesy”. This shows us that Keats is in favour of using his poetic imagination rather than the use of alcohol.
Keats is enraptured by the inspirational song of the nightingale because the portrayal of the bird enforces in Keats’s mind that this bird could take him out of this world of despair and could be transformational which makes Keats’s believe that he could escape from the melancholic life of the world into the world of happiness which is free from the truthful realities the world presents i front of us and the stressful life he lives through. He describes the bird’s singing as being as, “sings but to her love” and she also sings with full throated ease. The singing of the nightingale makes Keat’s feel as if he is free to express his emotions without the pains of reality in his way. Here, Keat’s longs to be free of any restrictions that the painful, physical world is holding him back from.
Keats also uses powerful, distinct symbolism and imagery to contrast himself to the bird by making people think that the nightingale is being portrayed as being the symbol of Keats’s poetic inspiration and satisfaction. Keats tries to enter the life of the nightingale by using the words of vivid and allegorical poetry but it is the closest Keats can ever get to the “immortal bird”. He uses the strong symbolic meaning of the nightingale and its world to escape from the harsh reality of life. While trying to find many ways to join the bird he also states that escaping from the physical world is impossible in his eyes, “the fancy cannot cheat so well”. This shows us that Keats feels deceived by his imagination because he cannot escape the physical world. Keat’s being unable to continue with his quest of escaping from the world because he allows the real world to intrude by saying that the nightingale has never known, “weariness, the fever, and the fret” which has been experienced by humanity.
As the nightingale flies away, the intensity of the poet’s experience has left him dazed because he is unable to remember whether he is awake or not. Keats uses a metaphor to represent the significance of the nightingale immortality which is anything unlike the poets, “leaden-eyed despairs/ as beauty fades and love pines”.
The poem represents Shelley’s trying to explain the inspirational figure of the bird through the metaphors of nature. The skylark’s unimpeded song rains down upon the world which is greater than every other beauty and his use the inspiring metaphor makes the reader actually believe that the bird is not a mortal bird at all “sprite” (spirit).
“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art”.
Shelley at once establishes that the skylark is a “blithe Spirit” rather than a bird, for its song comes from Heaven, and from its full heart pours “profuse strains of unpremeditated art”. The skylark flies higher and higher, “like a cloud of fire” in the blue sky, singing as it flies. In the “golden lightning” of the sun, it floats and runs, like “an unbodied joy”. As the skylark flies higher and higher, the speaker loses sight of it, but is still able to hear its “shrill delight”, which comes down as keenly as moonbeams in the ‘white dawn’ which can be felt even when they are not seen. The bird is “Like a poet hidden in the light of thought singing Hymns unbidden”. Shelley makes use of striking imagery, hyperbole and metaphors to reinforce the idea and belief that the skylark and the poet have divine knowledge and exceptional qualities. Shelley doesn’t just want to look for this immortal and inspirational bird to be a master of the birds “unpremeditated art” but he also wants to hypnotise the world, to make see how this bird has managed to capture his soul.
In Hardy’s, “The Darkling Thrush”, written to commemorate the end of the nineteenth century, the reader is made aware of the voice of the poet where mood of the poem is foreboding and is set out in a gloomy atmosphere. Hardy chooses the poem’s time as at the closing of the year and the most of all the century to emphasise the message that an historical era is coming to an end. Also Hardy’s thrush is also a bird which sings in a setting of darkness where there is only there is theme of death is seen in the day, year and the century.
“The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry.”
The opening stanza shows us a bleak and stark picture of a winter landscape which represents the time of death. The first stanza Hardy establishes through a natural setting that the ending of the century which is being noticed by the lonely onlooker standing at a physical boundary, the edge of the woods. The setting only has a trace of life where natural and human appearances are seen as being ghostly.
“I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.”
The second stanza explains that this moment in time is the marking of another century. The landscape’s feature becomes comparable to an immense corpse stretched out. The first sentence shows the speaker’s mind interpreting huge spaces of land and sky as ending up inside Century’s coffin which has a seems to have a frightening effect on the speaker. It is a vision of death and closure. This image is the effect of a “vision” that is putting the world and time.
“The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death lamen”.
The darkling thrush is voice of the real world and introduces a positive element in the poem. The speaker begins to talk the positives of death by talking about, broken musical instruments can be repaired and hard and dry seeds can germinate. Hardy’s use of diction is changes the mood in the third stanza.
“An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom”
The song-bird has entered a mood of warmth and hope from earlier desolate and dead landscape. The song of the thrush dominates the end of the poem. It seems to change sorrow into happiness. Before the thrush sang, the howl of the wind dominated the landscape and created a mood like a funeral. The dull and gloomy landscape seems to be revived by the song of the thrush that seems to revive Hardy’s spirit. He feels joy at its music, despite his sorrow and despair.
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The “Darkling Thrush’s” third stanza contains no first person pronoun is crucial. It is also possible to see the final stanza as Hardy questioning his own lack of religious faith, his own “growing gloom”. The thrush seemingly knows more than the poet, it is aware of some “blessed Hope” that is unknown to the agnostic poet. The religious inference can be drawn from the use of the capital “H” that is used in “Hope”.
Throughout the course of this essay I have attempted to show that Keats and Shelley belonged to the romantic tradition of English poetry; whereas Hardy very much wrote in a tradition of realism. All three poets have used the symbol of the bird to convey their ideas about life and death but the revival of the birds song revives them make them feel that the bird is able to carry them from harsh realities of the physical world. The poets’ dull and mournful mood seems to be transformed by the bird’s song, and they all reflect on the beauty of the song and how they all seem to attempt to leave form the world.
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