Analysis and Comparison of John Keats’ - Literature Essay Example

Analysis and Comparison of John Keats’

“Ode to a Nightingale” and Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark”

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The “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats and “To a Skylark” by Percy Shelley were two of the classic and traditional literary works people- who have particular inclination to nature, beauty and liberty- have come to admire. These two literary works were written reflections and expressions of nature’s beauty and irony, pain and joy of freedom, and the broadness and ambiguity of one’s imagination. However, although the poems have similarities in theme and subject, the texts contain very different modes of expression and structure.

Being an ode, John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” was written to address a specific thing or object; in this context, a nightingale, to which particular feelings of joy and grief are expressed.  Throughout the poem, the poet consistently describes how well and charming the voice of the nightingale sounds and how well and light any person could feel by just hearing the nightingale’s song. However, on the first few stanzas, the nightingale appears to become a symbol which could either stand for the poet himself or the poet’s ideals. These meanings reflect the poet’s description of the bird’s voice which can signify his act of expression and the bird’s song as his ideology or poetry: “In some melodious plot… Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, / Singest of summer in full-throated ease” (Keats qtd. in Greenblatt).

Towards the following lines, the focus of the poem drifted from the beauty of the nightingale’s song to the intense distress and desire of the poet to break free. From this point onwards, the poem deals with the depressing nature of life. Thus, the message sounds as if the poet wanted nothing but to be freed and be allowed to experience bliss and delight which will make him escape the painful and depressing occurrence of death. All of these symbolisms and themes were associated with the nightingale’s song and its ability to touch the poet’s emotions. This was basically the reason why the ode was written: to address the nightingale and not death or distress and the specific emotions that the poet apparently went through while writing the poem.

On the other hand, Percy Shelley’s expression in the literary work, “To a Skylark” presents a more positive and pleasant attitude towards writing down his thoughts. His address to the skylark as one of nature’s most beautiful gifts which brings people incomparable delight and glee has been very notable. Compared to how Keats delivered his thoughts in the “Ode to a Nightingale,” Shelley’s approach was rather softer, lighter, and more positive. His choice of words did not contain much pessimism and distress compared to how Keats dealt with negative thoughts like death and dying. Shelley talked about the hope, happiness, fear, pain, death, pride, life, and a lot of other ambiguous ideas throughout the poem in such a manner that each idea was associated with the appearance of the beautiful skylark.

“Like a high-born maiden. In a palace tower, soothing her love-laden soul in secret hour. With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower […] Like a rose embower’d. In its own green leaves, by warm winds deflower’d. Till the scent it gives makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves […]” (Shelley qtd. in Greenblatt)

Shelley’s command of language and choice of words are rather simpler as well compared to Keats’. A non-literature fan would easily comprehend the simplicity of Shelley’s message in reading the poem for the first time. He also did not make use of too profound words and idioms which made the entirety of the poem easy to understand. However, because of its plainness, some may criticize Shelley’s work as mediocre and as something which lacks cleverness in some parts, considering that he belonged to a generation when poets were hailed and looked up to as great minds. Shelley’s simplicity can easily be misunderstood as being second-rate, unlike Keats’ work which is significantly more radical and philosophical. Thus, readers of Keats’ poetry need to analyze his poem deliberately and carefully in order to get the main theme and message, while Shelley’s readers only need sensitivity and awareness in order to understand the message he is trying to convey since his words are particularly simpler.

In looking at both literary works, it may appear that nature and natural beauty have been a popular image commonly associated with the vague and profound ideas in life such as happiness, death, and love by the early romanticist poets. The two exemplars of lyric poetry may contain similar themes and subjects; the comparison comes in how the themes and ideas were addressed. The general attitude and approach of a literary work may often determine the major effect it may give its reader. More often than not, people create impression based on how ideas are said and written. Therefore, these two poems may contain similar messages, but considering that the poets chose different tones and commands of language, the messages may have been understood by the readers differently. Their messages may speak of the same thought, but the difference in how these messages were expressed may make the readers’ understanding and interpretation of the two literary works completely unalike.

Works Cited

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 2006. 824

Shelley’s, Percy. “To a Skylark.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. 2006.

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