Oblivion Only Seems Romantic


. . . pardon the pun. But Keats's poem, which follows, is truly one of the gems of the English Language and perhaps the high point of the Romantic Movement. I choose it today because there are strains and notes of it that speak to my present situation. And I lovingly dedicate it to Linda and Samuel--my heart away from home.

"Ode to a Nightingale"
John Keats

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-wingèd 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-delvèd 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-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

With my penchant for reading into rather than merely reading, and keeping in mind that Keats was not a known Christian adherent (to say the least), I still can see some wonderful Christian sentiment in the poem. If we take for the Nightingale, God himself, then, in at least these two stanzas we come to an understanding of the longing of the contemplative. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the poetry of the Romantic Era is really about contemplation. Often it is a pantheistic contemplation that is suggested. In Shelley's case it may be more an introspection than a contemplation. But much of what they write is about being transported out of self by engagement with the Other--usually in the form of Nature. And it is an odd zeitgeist that gives us the Romantics in England approximately cotemporaneous with Emerson and his lot of transcendentalists here in the U.S. The Enlightenment provided us with a watchmaker God who did not interfere in His creation, and the Romantic Rebellion found in nature itself an object of contemplation to replace God. Obviously this is not a salutary move, nevertheless, that they still sought to find Him when they were told that He would not be found, or if found could not be moved, is characteristic of the longing of the human heart.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 22, 2005 7:35 AM.

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