I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And Mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Primary considerable option in ’ode to a nightingale’ is Keats’ perception of the conflicted nature of the human life which will be analyzed further in chapter 2.
Focusing on 5th stanza, the poet has left the physical world and has entered a world where he sees not with his natural eyes, but with heavenly eyes. The poet try to internalize the amazing element of nature when he wrote the poem by described it by using another sense to see the nature which is in smell and touch.
For the first, we will introduced the 5th stanza by analyzed the literal meaning of the words in this stanza. Then, we will interpret this stanza according to heavenly eyes of the poet in next session.
According to literal meaning of this stanza, we can conclude that this is important part of ‘ode to a nightingale’ because of it introduces the setting of the poem when it made in the progress which is in the garden in spring season at mid-May.
Setting of place is in the garden which is identified by flowers on the grass, boughs, the grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild, white hawthorn, the pastoral eglantine, fading leaves, etc. mid-May which is identified by the sentence ‘and mid-may’s eldest child’. Spring season which is identified by musk-rose, fading leaves, murmurous haunt of flies, summer eves, etc. in the spring season, the musk-rose, which is a mid-May flower, has not yet bloomed. At the last sentence in5th stanza, the word ‘on summer eves’, by open dictionary, we know that it is the changing time from spring to summer, but in the main line it is at spring season.
There are some words in this stanza which is possibly have non literal meaning that can give important clue to which the poet want to send the idea given in this stanza.
‘cannot see the flowers’ which possibly as symbol of the low ability of the poet to see surrounding by his weak eyes until he uses his other sense in smell and touch. His weak eyes also possible to refer to humans changing level of age from adult to old. It is also possible as sign of death since eyes used to see the world.
‘embalmed darkness’ which is defined as fragrant, preserved body is possible to death since we symbolized death in darkness and also possible to describe the poets’ addicted to the beauty and natural conflict of the element of nature.
‘summer eves’ which define as season changing is possible to symbolized the changing of age, from adult which is identified by musk-rose to old which is identified by dewy wine which is cold, the time humans can not produce anything, the time which is naturally bring us to death.
Back to first line in the 5th stanza, based on literal meaning we indentified that because of the poet cannot see in the darkness, he must rely on his other senses. Then the questions raise, what senses does he rely on? Are his experience and his sensations intense? It’s for himself only or for the reader also?
Even in this refuge, death is present; what words hint of death? Was death anticipated in stanza 1 by the vague suggestions in the words ‘Lethe’, ‘hemlock’, ‘drowsy numbness’, ‘poisonous’, and ‘shadowy darkness’? The answer of these questions might be found in the next session.
Based on the analysis of literal and non-literal meaning discussed on the preceding chapter, our focus here is to discuss about the love and death symbolized by the nature elements that we can find in the 5th stanza. We can see that the author admires the nature by associating the symbols of nature to his life. As we know that the author suffers because of his disease and it makes him being different and isolated from the other.
The fifth stanza begun with “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet”. This line tells that the author starts to feel abstract influenced by the amazing of the nature element. He starts new stanza by internalizing the beauty of nature. The nature element here is the flower. This line has relation with the preceding line in the forth stanza that he admires deeply of the nature until he close his eyes and cannot see by his eyes. “Nor what soft incense hangs upon the bough”. This second line tells that the author still internalizes, but here he uses other sense, it’s smell and touch. He can feel the smell of the nature element without seeing to the nature element itself.
“But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet”. The author uses “But,” to create the contrast between the preceding line that tells about his admiration to the fact that he is aware of the death that will come to him. Although he is embalmed of the darkness, he is more and more dazzled by the beauty and involve himself to the nature itself. “Guess and sweet” means that spontaneously, he can guess the beauty and sweetness of the nature. “Wherewith the seasonable month endows”. The fourth line means that the sweetness which is also mentioned in the preceding line has meaning that the beauty as blessing/favor in which it is different for each season. Each season brings different characteristic. For instance, the spring brings the green plant symbolized as a new life, while the summer brings the end of green symbolized as the end of youth.
In the fifth line, “The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild”, clearly he says that the sweetness that we find in the preceding lines is still here. He portrays further the sweetness by writing the element of nature like in this line. The grass means joy, pleasure, and tranquility that we find in the childhood, the thicket means the complexity of life that we find in adulthood, while the fruit-tree wild means as the result from the childhood and adulthood that forms one personality of a human.
In contrast to the fifth stanza, the sixth stanza “White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine”. These 2 plants are similar in producing the flower with the same colors, those are white, pink, and red. It also produce the thorns. The harsh life symbolized here. Although we feel joy and pleasure in our life, the coplexity will also come to us. The author tries to give us a lesson that it’s the way the nature teach us about the meaning of life.
In the seventh line, the author says “Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves”. From this line we know that the author tries to tell us about the way of his life by put “Fast fading violets”. We interprete it with “leaves” as his youth that full of joy and pleasure, but fast fading because of his disease. In the next line, “And mid-May’s eldest child”. The author also explains about his youth and his life that lost fast. “eldest child” symbolized as his rapid life fading without giving chance to enjoy the youth more.
In the ninth line ,“The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine” line still has relation with the seventh line. He emphasizes again in this line by giving the symbol of “musk-rose”, although in his youth there are joy and pleasure, but it’s fading soon, without blossoming first, without enjoying first. The last line “The murmorous haunt of flies in summer eves” means that fear always comes again and again like the flies on the summer eves (transition from spring to summer) that always buzz. “Summer eves” symbolized as the transition from youth to adult, as we know that flower blossoms in the spring and faded in the summer. He feels like asking to himself about hope and dreams, about his life. Obviously, he is aware of his fear that always haunt in his life.
In conclusion, by looking to the beauty of the nature elements that we find in the fifth stanza, we can associate it to the love and death of him. According to the first stanza, there is strong relation between two of which, it equally discuss about death. The chirp of nightingale is just found in the darkness, it’s like the live of the author. He made an extraordinary work, but lived for just a moment.