Compare and analyse the poems of Keats (“Ode to Autumn”, “Ode to a Nightingale”) and Wordsworth (“The Prelude” ), with reference to the social, historical or literary background of the Romantic period. The poems of Keats and Wordsworth are vastly different, and they perceive things in different ways, but it is possible to pick out some similarities in their poems. This essay will compare the poems ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Ode to Autumn’ (John Keats) and an extract from ‘The Prelude’ (William Wordsworth) and find a selection of similarities and differences between the two poets’ works.
Keats and Wordsworth’s poems are about nature, but they perceive nature from different perspectives. Keats’ Ode to Autumn personifies an aspect of nature: the season autumn (“may find thee sitting careless on the granary floor, thy hair soft lifted…”, “or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,”, “steady thy laden head”, “thou watchest the last oozings”), and makes autumn seem much more than an intangible season. He also describes autumn as a “bosom-friend”, which shows that he sees nature as a force of goodness. Wordsworth, however, depicts a part of nature as a menacing thing, “a huge peak, black and huge”.
The repetition of huge emphasises the size of the mountain, which is a common metaphor for an obstacle in the poet’s life. He uses a lot of dark imagery to convey this depiction, referring to the mountain as a “grim shape” that “towered up between me and the stars” and was “huge and mighty”. In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats again implies that nature is good. The nightingale, which represents a part of nature, is considered a friend by Keats (“Darkling I listen”, “I have been half in love with easeful death”, “And with thee fade away into the forest dim”) in spite of the fact that it also represents death.
Because Wordsworth’s poem is in the past tense, and background knowledge tells us that The Prelude is an autobiographical account of Wordsworth’s childhood, it could be that Wordsworth encountered some sort of problem in his early life that set him back (as the narrator of the poem was forced to turn his boat around and return to the shore.) This would explain the dark tone of the poem. In fact, both Ode to a Nightingale and The Prelude are very dark, melancholic poems.
In Ode to a Nightingale, the bird’s song forces Keats to reflect on his own mortality (“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down ;”) He realises that though his poetry grants him escape from his pain for a short while (“for I will fly to thee, not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, but on the viewless wings of Poesy ”), he cannot escape completely from his unhappiness (“Folorn! the very word is like a bell to toll me back from thee to my sole self!”)
Keats and Wordsworth have very different styles. Wordworth is less traditional in his language. His poem does not contain any of the ‘old’ language embellishments (e.g. ‘st’ or ‘th’ on the end of words) or pronunciations (e.g. ‘thee’ or ‘thou’). However, this lack of traditional English does not detract from the vivid scenes imaged in the poem, such as the “elfin pinnace” of the “horizon’s utmost boundary”, and the “silent lake” and “huge peak”.
The simple language used to convey these images represent nature’s starkness and simplicity, and embellishments to the language are not needed to bring home such a powerful image. Keats uses more traditional poetic language for his poetry, full of embellishments and old pronunciation. The titles of the two poems under analysis suggest this, as an ode is “an elaborate lyric poem which addresses someone or something in sincere and dignified language”
This flowery language increases the power of his poetry, rather than detracting from it as it would have done if it had been used in The Prelude, because Autumn is a season with lots of embellishments (e.g. leaves dying, weather getting colder), and nightingales embellish their songs with trills and harmonies. Keats’ poems rhyme, unlike Wordsworth’s blank verse (which does not rhyme, but rigidly follows the iambic pentameter rule throughout), but it does not follow the most often used form of rhyming a.b.a.b. all the way through.
Instead, Keats follows the pattern a.b.a.b.c.d.e.d.c.c.e in Ode to Autumn and a.b.a.b.c.d.e.c.d.e. in Ode to a Nightingale. His verses contain a lot of enjambment (one line running onto the next), and his choice of diction adds to the slow pace of the poem (Keats uses certain words to great effect in Ode to Autumn. Drawn-out words such as “fruitfulness”, “bless”, “mourn” and “bourn” heighten the drowsy mood of the poem and cause the reader to feel the same. He also uses this technique in Ode to a Nightingale with phrases such as “numbness pains”, “dull opiate to the drains”, “thine happiness”, “shadows numberless” and “full throated ease”.)
However, though the pace of the poems is slow, the enjambment and the descriptions make the verses themselves seem fast with lots of things happening in each part, e.g. “Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn” Gnats are tiny things, and to make a choir there must be hundreds of them. This implies a lot of action, yet the drawnout words ‘wailful’ and ‘mourn’ make the actual line a slow paced one. Wordsworth’s The Prelude is much more sedate.
Though this poem also contains enjambment, the lines are broken with commas and colons. Because the poem is in the past tense, (“pushed from the shore”) it seems more distant to the reader than Keats’ poems, which are very much of the moment and draw in the reader by asking them questions (“Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?”, “Where are the songs of Spring?”
“Do I wake sleep?” ) . The autobiographical aspects of The Prelude make the scenes described by Wordsworth appear to the reader as if it had been reflected upon. This shows that The Prelude is an opinionated piece of writing that expresses Wordsworth’s opinion and feelings on the events that have happened. Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale is almost like an interior monologue (a stream of consciousness in the first person, expressing thoughts and ideas) of Keats’ feelings and mental images as he listens to the nightingale’s song. It does not pause for reflection, but carries on to the end.