This ode was written in May 1819 and first published in the Annals of the Fine Arts in July 1819. Interestingly, in both the original draft and in its first publication, it is titled 'Ode to the Nightingale'. The title was altered by Keats's publishers. Twenty years after the poet's death, Joseph Severn painted the famous portrait 'Keats listening to a nightingale on Hampstead Heath'.
Critics generally agree that Nightingale was the second of the five 'great odes' of 1819 and its themes are reflected in its 'twin' ode, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'. Keats's friend and roommate, Charles Brown, described the composition of this beautiful work as follows:
'In the spring of 1819 a nightingale ...view middle of the document...
The manuscript is actually on two sheets of paper, not 'four or five' as Brown recalled, and the stanzas are in relative order. But the work was written hastily on scrap paper. It is clear that Keats did not anticipate writing such a lengthy poem when he took just two sheets of paper into the garden, - and he did not dare interrupt his writing to fetch more later.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, -
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,