A Paraphrase of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

I am sad at heart, and numb to the world,
Like Socrates who drank hemlock,
Or as if I drank laudanum (like Coleridge)
Recently, and sank into forgetfulness:
Not because I envy you,
But because I am too happy for you,
That you, nightingale of the forest,
In some beautiful copse
Of shadowy beeches
Sing carelessly of summer.

Oh for a taste of really well-aged wine, that has been
Stored and cooled in deep earthen cellar,
Tasting of the Goddess of Spring, and greenery,
And dance, and folk tunes, and a hot day at the fair!
Oh, I wish I had some southern wine in a glass,
The good stuff, dark crimson,
A few bubbles around the rim from pouring it,
And the purple trailing down the side;
So that I could drink and be drunk,
And dream myself away into the forest with you.

Dream myself away, and forget
Everything you never knew in your trees,
All the hustle and bustle and stress
Here, among the the weary worldlings;
Where only a few reached old age,
And even young men are consumptive, and die;
Where thinking brings only sorrow,
And saturnine despair;
Where there is no beauty,
Or love for us lonely men.

Get out! I’ll be coming soon,
Not using wine like I said,
But simply by this intangible poem,
Although my brain is weary of thinking;
And just like that, I’m already with you, while the night is young,
And fortunately, the crescent moon is out,
Surrounded by stars,
Although under the trees there is no light,
Except the gleams brought by a breeze moving the branches aside.

I can’t see anything of the flowers,
Nor what kind of trees smell so good,
But in the darky darkness, I can guess the plants
That this summer brings everywhere;
Grass, bushes, and wild fruit-trees;
White hawthorn, and the bucolic honeysuckle;
Wilting violets under leaves;
And the last flower blooming in May,
The musk-rose, nectar-rich,
Luring insects in the evenings.

I listen silently in the dark; and since frequently
I have thought it would be peaceful to die,
And called death familiarly in poetry,
Asking him to steal my life,
It now more than ever seems desirable to pass,
Quietly in the middle of the night,
While listening to your soulful song
In such ecstasy!
And you would still be singing to my deaf, dead ears,
After I was dead and gone.

You weren’t born to die, bird!
You don’t have hungry children as a burden;
The same voice I heard tonight was heard
By high and low throughout history:
Perhaps your singing touched a chord
In Ruth’s homesick heart, when
She stood crying in a foreign field;
The same voice that convinced people to open windows everywhere,
From the seven seas to lonely faery lands.

Lonely! The very word recalls me
From my daydream of you.
Goodbye! My reverie was not as powerful
As the poets say, enchanting even the enchanters.
Goodbye, goodbye! Your sad melody sinks
Over the pasture, beyond the creek,
Up the draw; and now I can’t hear it anymore,
Far away in the next mountain’s clearings.


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