Friday Poem: 'Ode to a Nightingale'

A poem by John Keats, chosenby Isabella Tree.

A poem by John Keats, selected by Isabella Tree. Isabella's book, Wilding, is published in hardback and ebook now. 

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-winged 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-delved 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-stained mouth; 
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 
         What thou among the leaves hast never known, 
The weariness, the fever, and the fret 
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 
                        And leaden-eyed despairs, 
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow. 

Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 
But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 
Already with thee! tender is the night, 
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 
                Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays; 
                        But here there is no light, 
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. 

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. 

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 
         I have been half in love with easeful Death, 
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 
         To take into the air my quiet breath; 
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die, 
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 
                        In such an ecstasy! 
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— 
                   To thy high requiem become a sod. 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 
         No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
         In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
                        The same that oft-times hath 
         Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self! 
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well 
         As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. 
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 
                Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep 
                        In the next valley-glades: 
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep? 

In this video, Isabella reads from the poem, and talks about the plight of the nightingale in Britain today. 


by Isabella Tree

After being forced to accept that farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp in West Sussex was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to let nature take over. What happened next, they could never have predicted.

Wilding, the remarkable story of how nature returned to Knepp, is published in hardback and ebook now.

Hear Isabella talk more about rewilding in this video.