Odes of Inspiration
In two classic “odes” by Romance poets, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, nature is the muse of inspiration. The artistic movement in literature of the Romantic era emphasized nature, beauty, and meditation connecting the artist to a liberated state. The new Enlightenment philosophies of German philosophers, like Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) greatly influenced the expansion of thought, art, architecture, and literature. The French Revolution became an exciting catalyst for change. The Romance poets free thinking allowed for solitude in nature to inspire their artistic souls. Both Keats, and Shelley used the poetic form of the ode, to personify something immortal in nature. The two poets, Keats, and Shelley share the idea of the immortality of art transposed in their odes as an element of nature.
In John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale,” the nightingale is a symbol of beauty, freedom, and immortality, the night itself a soothing pool of darkness, “. . .in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet/Wherewith the seasonable month endows,” (Keats) a place of solitude as in meditation from which art springs. It is only in this state of quiet repose that the speaker can find solace from the mundane world to become inspired by the song that awakens him from somnambulism, “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell/To toll me back from thee to my sole self” (Keats). The nightingale is a symbol of the immortality of art, as John Keats desires of his poetry.
Similarly, in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s, “Ode to the West Wind” the poet uses metaphysical notions, and invokes the wild west wind, to come and dust away old paradigms, and forms in art, archaic styles that bind, he beseeches the wind they be blown away, “Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead/Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,” (Shelley). He incants the wind to scatter his words in the universe, “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth” (Shelley). The seasonal theme of nature’s ever changing yet eternal self is reflective of Shelley wishes in regards to art, and poetry, and to his poetry having its own continuity, and power.
The final line of Keats, ode, ask a philosophical question of enlightenment, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?/Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” (Keats). The Romance poet’s philosophy, of the evolution of poetry, is of transcendence, freedom, and liberation. Both Keats, and Shelley’s metaphysical visions were inspired by natures beauty, Keats, by her tranquility, and Shelley by her shear power to cause sweeping change.
*This short essay was written on the spot for an exam last Monday