A mood board inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic heroine Ophelia (Hamlet). Her madness-led demise by drowning was deemed one of the Bard’s most breathtaking death announcements and, with the aid of this ethereal depiction on canvas by Victorian painter Sir John Everett Millais, her death lives to this day, immortalised by Romantics then and now.
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
I should like to die on a splendid day at the height of summer, under a radiant blue sky on a bed of flowers. If it were not for my morbid longing for the picturesque, I should not mind expiring as wildlife do, Continue reading
Good poetry speaks for itself. What is there to say about John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” that hasn’t already been said, by generations of scholars, writers, readers? Very little. So, instead of launching into a serious academic essay, I will elaborate on the personal significance of this well-known and loved Keatsian masterpiece.
I am drawn to Keats’ romantic portrait of anguish, longing, melancholy, and regret because these feelings—very human and relatable ones—are endowed with great beauty, like a well-executed, melodramatic painting of a man who, because of his suffering soul and inevitable mortality, is clutching his chest in pain, eyes squeezed tight, weeping soundlessly. This is precisely what I envision upon entering Keats’ realm of meadows, rivers, mossy ways, musk-roses, dryads and melodious aves. Nowhere is this world more apparent or romantically depicted than in “Ode to a Nightingale”. A case can be made for “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, but the former is unsurpassable.
‘Oh, dear reader, this is just my cup of tea!’ is too mild a phrase to capture the way dreamy descriptions of nature and apt depictions of mood, entwined with place, ignites my flammable soul the way fire does gasoline, speeds up my heartbeat and calms by mind like ecstasy and heroin rolled into one. So, reader, believe me when I say such literary accomplishments are to me the elixir of life, rare, utterly delectable, fatally addictive and usually (thankfully) only found in small doses: one sentence in a passage, one passage in a chapter, one poem in a collection. They say love is a drug. So is literature (and all of art, for that matter).
And it gets better: the poem’s subject matter is even more poignant than its mood and setting. The titular nightingale is the star of the poem and, more importantly, the catalyst for the poet’s anguished cries. He is deeply moved by this winged songstress of the woods, so much so that its music has become divine in his ears while the bird itself assumed immortality in his mind. In comparison, he realises, he himself remains hopelessly mortal, another human bound for death. Thus he laments the transience of life, namely the inevitability of old age, illness, and death, along with the fleeting nature of beauty, doomed to fade; he even contemplates dying an easeful, self-indulgent death while being serenaded by the nightingale:
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in may 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 as ecstasy!