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8 Nov 2022

Sarah
Doyle

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Full Moon

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Nov 23rd

On viewing the
original manuscript of
‘Ode to a Nightingale’,
Keats House, Hampstead,
200 years later

Oct 25th

'Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!'

from Keats' Ode to a Nightingale (1819)

               Light-winged pages, you are spread like hands, as if

               supplicated by the invisible pins of a lepidopterist’s

               craft. This room is dim around you, velvet blinding

               the window’s bright eye. Here, where the pad of Keats’

               thumb smoothed your joints, are his words and your

               music: starry footprints inking staves and notes across

               parchment. You are fragile, dear Nightingale, but safe

               in your case of glass, incubating your mythology yet.

               Captured and recorded – when? and where? – a piped

               facsimile of passerine syrinx makes merry, calling to

               mind what we have lost. In this house in its garden,

               the song remains – but the singer, mortal bird, does not.

Behind the poem...

While my poem borrows some of the language and imagery of Keats’ famous poem Ode to a Nightingale , it goes further by considering it as an object. Seeing the handwritten manuscript at Keats House, I was struck by its fragility: by how this contrasts with the extraordinary longevity of Keats’ words over the past two centuries. I also considered the precarious existence of the nightingale itself – and of many other bird and animal species. In that dim, curtained room, electronic birdsong piped in, I felt I needed to write a response both ekphrastic and ecological.