Structural Commentary

Structural Commentary – Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

In class, we discussed and analyzed “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats (1819). Unfortunately, time only allowed us to barely skim the surface of the poem, so I thought I’d try my hand at analyzing it myself. Bear with me, since I’m still trying to get the hang of this whole poetry blogging thing!

The full text of the poem can be found here on the Poetry Foundation website, and I’ll be quoting it as relevant parts come up in analysis.

Rhyme Scheme & Shape

One of the first things I always look at when diving into a poem is how it is structured. The piece is broken up into nine stanzas with 10 lines each, following an ABABCDECDE rhyme scheme. Below is the first stanza with annotations.

Line Rhyme Scheme
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains A
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, B
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains A
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: B
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, C
         But being too happy in thine happiness,— D
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees E
                        In some melodious plot C
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, D
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease. E

In each stanza, there are two voltas: one after the fourth like and one after the seventh.

Here, we see that all B lines are indented once. Then, after the first volta we have a sort of stair-step shape form. I mean, unless you’re reading this post on mobile or on a small window, in which case the formatting probably got goofy. I had to manually input the HTML for that thing, so it was a pain in the butt to include, so I apologize if it’s being weird.

Anyway, so much of the art of poetry includes the visual shape of the poem, and Keats does a lovely job of having that consistency.

Syllable Count

The syllable count is roughly regular, with most lines being between nine and eleven syllables, the average being ten. The only exception to this is that, in each stanza, the eighth line is five or six syllables, giving the sections breath.

There is an iambic meter to the entire work, so it reads very naturally.

This post is the first in a series commenting on the structure of poetry. Interpretation and analysis for this poem is coming soon.

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