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Research papers on Keats' Ode to a Nightingale

Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is often regarded as second in significance only to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” as the quintessential Romantic poem, embodying many of the most pressing ideas and concerns of the era. “Ode to a Nightingale” research papers are chiefly preoccupied with questions of mortality and the evanescence of human existence.  While this Ode to a Nightingale research paper theme was very common in Romantic works, it was of particular interest to Keats. From his training as a surgeon to his slow decline as a result of tuberculosis, Keats was always very cognizant of the inevitability of death, and this fact is made abundantly clear in not only  “Ode to a Nightingale,” but also, in many of his other poems examined in literature research papers.

In “Ode to a Nightingale,” the speaker hears and wistfully reflects upon the “full-throated ease” of the nightingale’s song, which has the power to revive his dulled senses. The contrast of vivid reminders of life and contrasted with images of inevitable decay and disintegration throughout the poem; this juxtaposition is used to explore the vagaries of the muse and the creative process, another important concern of the Romantic poets. Like life, fancy and the imagination are fleeting and ephemeral; encountering the creative process is likened to a struggle, after which the poet, spent, must reluctantly return to his “sole self.” The fleeting encounter with the muse is over so quickly it seems unreal, and the speaker questions whether it even happened at all, or if it was merely a “a vision, or a waking dream.” Still, the potency of the creative process is demonstrated by the very existence of the poem itself, and the poet is transformed by his melancholy encounter with the sublime.  

Throughout the poem Keats praises the nightingale and its enduring song. He contemplates who, through the ages, might have heard this same song. In lines 65-67 he suggests it might have been Ruth of the Bible:

“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;”

To imagine why Keats alludes to Ruth it is necessary to know who Ruth was.

  • Her story is found in the Bible in the book of Ruth.
  • As a Moabite and a widow, Ruth chooses to leave her home in Moab and accompany her mother-in-law, a Jew, to Judah, land of the Israelites.
  • It is a foreign place where her “kind” is not readily accepted. Still she resolves to be faithful to the mother-in-law she loves. She gives up her own family, her homeland and her beliefs and converts to the ways of her new family in Judah.

One can imagine Ruth gleaning in the fields and longing for home however it is not mentioned in the book of Ruth. Instead the book conveys Ruth’s quiet and faithful resignation to her circumstance. If she had cried at the sound of the nightingale’s song they were sad tears of acceptance. Perhaps this is why Keats chose Ruth. The mention of Ruth brings Keats back from dreaming to the inevitability of his human situation. The mood of the poem changes at this point from one of guarded optimism to one of sad submission.

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