In John Keats’s work Ode to a Nightingale, he explores the contrast between human mortality and the Nightingale’s immortal happy spirit. Keats approaches human mortality from a melancholy point of view. He sees old age and death as a period of painful memories. In contrast to the speaker’s view, the Nightingale’s view is happy and seems not to have a care in the world, even when it grows old and dies. The narrator’s greatest wish is to fly away with the Nightingale and not have to remember the pain of the past, or dread the imminent reality of death in the future.
The Nightingale is an escapism for the speaker, as a way to forget the burden of the world. He ponders different avenues of escaping for example getting drunk “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim.” He rejects this method and starts to think about death as a way of escaping. He admits that he is half in love with the idea of suicide as a method of escape because it would be painless.
In the end the speaker rejects both methods and questions whether he is awake or sleeping. Keats clever use of language leaves the audience without resolution of how the narrator deals with these deep questions possibly because he is uncertain himself. The theme of human mortality versus immortality and youth is carried on throughout many other works such as Ode on a Grecian Urn.
In this work the narrator focuses his attention on an ancient Greek urn with pictures of youths and their adventures. He admires the pictures because they are frozen in time and happy because they are immortal. The speaker envy’s the character’s immortality and timelessness because when his generation is dead and gone, the urn will remain. The urn will never age or die making it free from the mortal limits of time but the characters are also frozen in time. He believes that their love and passion depicted is greater than any other because it is not confined by mortal standards. There can be no pain or grief, only happiness in their faces forever.
The speaker tries his best to relate to the characters on the urn but is only continuously reminded of his mortal condition, just as the nightingale does in Ode to a Nightingale. After trying numerous times to interact with the urn he settles on believing that the urn is of a separate world, self contained, and unrelational to the physical state. Because the urn and its characters exist out of time and can’t have memories, a past, or feelings, it can never know the pain or burden of the mortal world.
Keats uses a melancholy tone to describe human mortality and the pain of memory possibly because he is struggling with some of the same issues. At the same time of writing these poems he was nursing his brother through a sickness. Keats was forced to think about death with the passing of his brother and never grew old himself, dying of the same disease at the age of twenty-five.