Notes Essay

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Ode to a Nightingale In A Nutshell "Ode to a Nightingale" is one of the most famous – probably the most famous – of John Keats's Great Odes, which also include "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "To Autumn." The ode is a traditional Greek form that usually celebrates the person or object to which it is dedicated. In this poem, Keats celebrates the nightingale, a bird with a particularly magical voice. The nightingale is a loaded symbol for Keats because the origins of the nightingale had been so famously explained in the collection of stories called the Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid. Every good British poet in the 19th century would have known his Ovid, kind of like how every die-hard rock-and-roll fan today would know his Beatles. In Ovid's twisted story, a woman named Philomela is raped by her sister's husband, Tereus, who then cuts out her tongue to keep her from telling the world. Philomela manages to explain the crime to her sister Procne by weaving an embroidery about it. Procne's idea for revenge is to serve her son to her husband for dinner (like we said, twisted). When he learns of this nasty trick, Tereus tries to kill the two sisters, but the Greek gods save them by turning them into birds: Procne into a swallow and Philomela into a nightingale. The irony is that the woman who lost her voice (and her tongue) becomes the bird with one of the most beautiful voices in all of nature. In "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats wishes to flee from the pressures of the world, kind of like how Philomela escapes from her would-be murderer. He wrote the poem in 1819, while visiting his friend Charles Brown, who later wrote about the morning of its composition: In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under

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