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Literary Devices in Ode to a Nightingale

Literary Devices Examples in Ode to a Nightingale:

Ode to a Nightingale

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"No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown:..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

Keats uses an intriguing spatial metaphor here. The notion of the nightingale in flight rising above the earthly “tread” of generations serves to indicate its timelessness. The rest of the stanza illustrates a series of appearances by the nightingale in different historical and mythological settings. Thus the nightingale’s song becomes yet another vehicle for the speaker to escape his worldly suffering.

"The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

Keats uses consonance to give the line a sound that suits the imagery it describes. In particular, Keats repeatedly employs th, t, and the liquid consonants—that is, r and l—to thicken and interconnect the words. These dense sounds take on the sonic equivalent of grasses, thickets, and groves of trees.

"And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

The speaker, ever searching for the mythic, personifies the moon and stars as “the Queen-Moon” and “all her starry Fays” (“fay” being an outdated word for “fairy”). Once again, the speaker struggles with the dissonance between his idealism and the realities of the world. In the next line, it becomes clear that the mythic meanings assigned to the heavens have become emptied: “But here there is no light.”

"But on the viewless wings of Poesy,..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

The speaker now identifies as a poet, having found an escape from the world’s suffering “on the viewless wings of Poesy” rather than in pleasure. It is important that Keats uses the word “Poesy”—the craft of writing poems—rather than “poetry.” Poesy can be lofty, “viewless,” and ignore the world as it is. Poetry in its truest form cannot. The irony is that, while the speaker entertains the notion of escape through poesy, the poem itself does not turn its gaze from the world.

"Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

In this line, Keats uses assonance and consonance to create a chain of cascading sounds that runs from word to word. The n and c consonant sounds in ‘dance’ can be heard again in the second syllable of ‘Provencal,’ whose final syllable pairs nicely with the next word: ‘song.’ ‘Song,’ in turn, creates a slanted rim rhyme with ‘sun,’ and so on. Keats weaves this dense tapestry of vowel and consonant sounds in order to convey the sense of Dionysian abandon at the heart of the second stanza.

"light-wingéd Dryad of the trees,..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

Keats laces many of his poems with classical imagery and allusion. From the Dryad—a kind of nymph—to the goddess Flora and the Hippocrene, Keats draws upon figures and places from Greek lore to give the poem a timeless, mythic quality.

"Lethe-wards had sunk:..."   (Ode to a Nightingale)

The River Lethe is one of the four rivers of the Greek underworld. It is the river of oblivion, whose waters souls must drink so as to forget their past lives. In the first several stanzas, Keats’s speaker entertains the appeal of pleasure and forgetfulness before moving towards an engagement with the pain of life and death.

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