Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Comparison and Contrast between Keats' “Ode to Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

“Ode to Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” are finest examples of pictorial quality and sensuousness. There are both similarities and dissimilarities in these odes.
As the theme is concerned both of the poems are similar. Both poems seal with a universal theme – mortal and immortal, transience and permanence.

Similarities on the basis of structure

The structure of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” has a close parallel is that of its contemporary “Ode to Nightingale”. The “Ode to Nightingale” with its eight stanzas is longer but has the same kind of plan and development. The first verse provides the introduction in which the poet, feeling like one numbed or drugged hears the Nightingale singing of summer. Though no explicit questions are asked, the contrast between the exhaustion of the poet and the rapturous song of the bird is itself a question and provokes what follows. In the second to seventh verses, Keats develops the main subject which is the effect of the Nightingale’s song on him. He wishes in turn to fade away with the bird, to dissolve and forget his fever and his fret, to cease upon the midnight; then he rises to a more positive theme. He sees that the bird’s song belongs to a timeless order of things and the climax comes at the end of the seventh stanza with its recognition that song like this is beyond the grasp of death. The eighth stanza brings the conclusion in which Keats returns to reality and relates his enrapturing experience to it, recognizing that he can not for long share the ecstasy of the bird’s song. He has come back to where he started but something has happened which makes him unsure of himself asking whether he is awake or asleep. Keats has understood the bird’s rapture and entered into it and he sees more clearly the ambiguous nature of his relations to all such experiences. And just as in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats deepens the significance of his poem by his contrasts between ideal beauty and actual life, so in the “Ode to a Nightingale”. At each stage of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats transforms poetry to which he had given prolonged attention and which are very much his own.

Similarity on the basis of the use of symbol

Both of the odes are rich in the use of symbol. The central symbol of “Ode to Nightingale” is Nightingale. On the other hand the main symbol of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is Urn. Nightingale symbolizes happiness. As the poem progresses, the song does not remain the song of a particular bird it becomes a symbol of the eternal beauty for the poet. It is in this sense that the poet cries out:

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.”

The song of the bird will never come to an end because it has become one with the universal beauty.

In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats calls the Urn as ‘unravish’d bride of quietness. The Urn is a concrete symbol of some vast reality which can be reached only through knowledge of individual objects. The Urn is also the “foster child of silences and slow time.”

Addressing the Urn Keats says;

Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity:

In “Ode to a Nightingale” the world of Nightingale is a symbol of perfection, happiness with its fullness. The Grecian Urn is the symbol of immorality of art.

Similarity on the basis of Personification

In this poem “Ode to a Nightingale”, Nightingale is personified. To the eye of the poet, the bird is a symbol of happiness and perfection. The Nightingale’s world is the ideal world where the poet wishes to go to free him from the pings and sufferings of the world. But just one word “forlorn” is enough to call him back from the world of Nightingale to the world of those who are suffering from palsy, growing pale, spectre thin and then dying. The world of Nightingale with all its charm can not take away from Keats’ heart his sense of oneness with his earthly fellow beings who are suffering from “fever and fret” of the world.

Same is true in the case of the Urn. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn'’ the Urn is personified. It stands for beauty and permanence. It contrasts with the transitoriness of human life which is full of misery. The poet knows the value of the Urn as a beautiful piece of art but at the same time he realizes that beauty is not the only thing of importance. The Urn though immortal is speechless. It lacks the warmth and vigor of life.

Similarity on the basis of sensuousness

Keats expands the range of his sensuousness from pictures of physical love to the pictures of natural beauties. In “Ode to a Nightingale” the poet looks for eternal beauty. The beauty of the song of Nightingale is beautiful from time immemorial. It delights all people in all ages every where. The Urn itself is a symbol of everlasting beauty. The painter may die but the beauty of the painting is everlasting. The poet may die but poetry is undying.

Similarity on the basis of temperament

In all his poems, the poet is Greek in temper and spirit. The poems convey the poet’s mind’s inborn temperamental Greek ness. He is a representative of Greek thought and culture in a sense in which Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge are not. In “Ode to a Nightingale” there are references of Dryad, Hippocrene, Dacchus, Lethe- which remind us of Greek mythology. The Urn itself is from Greek mythology. It immortalizes Greek joy, culture, religion. The Grecian Urn shows the poet as the true representative of Greek, as the Urn outlives Greek culture. The Urn is the beauty. It is as true as the Greek immortality.

Similarity on the basis of Disillusionment

Both poems show that escape from the real world is never possible. In “Ode to the Nightingale” it is the word “forlorn” that puts the clock black. In the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” it is the realization of the death like, machine like, warmthless, speechless silence of the Urn that brings Keats back into the world of reality.


The tone of “Ode to Nightingale” is pathetic and it is more subjective than “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The tone is joyous and objective in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The overall tone of the poem is melancholic in “Ode to Nightingale”. The poem is also very subjective, because it draws reference from Keats’ own life. The expressions “fever and fret” the “spectre thin” etc clearly refer to the pathetic death of Keats’ brother. The poem is written immediately after the death of his brother. On the other hand Keats’ tone in “Ode to Grecian Urn” is very joyful. Here he celebrates the beauty of the Urn, the joyfulness of the lovers and the excitement of the religious sacrifice. He uses the word “happy” several times. More importantly unlike Nightingale it is not based on his personal loss. The poem was written after one of his visits to the British museum.

In these Odes the speaker wants to go beyond the better realties of the world by a kind of visionary imagination of the happy world. But when he comes to learn that the kind of imagination he is pursuing is a false temptation, he rejects the visionary imagination and comes back to harsh reality.