In literature, nature has always been considered an important topic. As a natural object, birds have also been mentioned in poetry. In fact, many poets have written beautiful poems about birds. Birds are also often used as symbols in poetry. For example, in Bengali literature, the cuckoo is often associated with spring. In English literature there are many poems that are written about birds or birds play an important role in poems.
For example, Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats and Ode to a Lark by PB Shelly are two very famous poems about birds. Another of these poems is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in which the poet has used the Albatross as a symbol. In keeping with the assignment requirement, I have selected John Keats’s Ode to Nightingale and STColeridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for my discussion.
Before discussing the two poems mentioned above, it is necessary to shed some light on the two poets and the Romantic era in English literature as a whole. The romantic age in English literature is a unique age because in this age all poets created their poetry on nature and nature-related topics. Nature forms the main aspect of his poetry. Before them, no poet could think of nature as the main theme of a poem. Romantic poets have successfully implemented this theme. As a result, all the great poems about birds were written around this time. John Keats was a romantic poet who adored the beauty of nature in his poetry. Natural objects become alive and beautiful in his poem, however, he does not treat them as if they are lifeless natural objects. Rather, he mixed his own emotions and creates a personal bond with them.
He also expresses his own personal feelings like happiness, sadness, hope and frustration, etc. in his poems. In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats has expressed his desire to escape a harsh reality that he cannot tolerate. He wants to join the nightingale and fly to the land of dreams.
On the other hand, STColeridge touched on the supernatural elements of nature and presented them in a very natural way. Coleridge had a brilliant sense of imagination and with his excellent storytelling skills he could imagine the most supernatural and then describe it in the most natural way. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge has described the life of a sailor who had killed an albatross and then suffered immensely for killing it. The whole poem is based on the reaction of killing the albatross. A bird is a beautiful creation of god and by killing the albatross for no reason, the sailor had committed a grave sin against god.
Only in the 20th century did men learn to fly like a bird before the airplane was discovered. Men were always fascinated with the idea of flying like a bird. According to Greek mythology, Daedalus and Icarus tried to imitate birds and made artificial wings to fly. His efforts failed in tragedy. So the concept of flying was like a dream for humanity until at the beginning of the 20th century people marveled at birds because they could fly in the sky. The poets also appreciated this matter and their minds also wanted to fly with them. We see this kind of impulse in Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale. The life of John Keats was very tragic; he died early from an illness. He also fell depressingly in love with a lady who brought him no success but only misery and, in his own time, some influential literary critics criticized his poetry in the worst possible way. So life became very miserable for John Keats.
All his life he sought to escape suffering and in Ode to a Nightingale we find Keats’s desperate effort to escape the harsh and cruel world around him. Feel that the nightingale is very lucky to be able to fly away from anywhere. At the beginning of this poem the poet refers to his miserable condition:
My heart aches and a sleepy numbness aches
My sense, as if I had drunk hemlock,
Or dumped a opaque opiate down the drain
After a minute, Lethe’s barriers had collapsed:
Here it is evident that the poet was suffering greatly when he wrote this poem. Life has become too painful for him, he feels as if he has drunk hemlock or opium. He wants to forget all his pain and be happy in the happiness of the nightingale.
For Coleridge, the albatross is not a way of escape, but rather a holy and beautiful creation of God. Brings joy to sailors. Sailors have to spend many lonely days at sea during their voyage. This is why they often feel very lonely and do not have the opportunity to see any signs of life around them for days:
At last an albatross crossed,
Through the fog it came;
As if I was a Christian soul
We salute you in the name of God.
So when they see an albatross, they feel happy and hope that the land is close to them. The same happened with the former sailor’s companions. When they saw the albatross they greeted it with joy and fed it and played with it. Thus, the albatross brought them company. Thanks to the arrival of the albatross, they were able to escape the harsh loneliness that surrounded them. Coleridge has introduced this bird as a friend and companion of men.
Both poems have used symbolism with great skill. Coleridge has used the technique of voluntary suspension of disbelief in which readers will forget the real world and believe that the world presented by the poet is real. The plot of the poem centers on the idea of sin-suffering-prayer-redemption. It is a poem with a moral touch. The sailor first committed a sin and then suffered for it. After much suffering, he prayed to God and then God forgave him. The sailor learns his lesson and tells others to show love and kindness to God’s creation. The albatross symbolizes Jesus Christ. The Sailor killed the innocent bird that brought companionship and hope for him and his fellow sailors:
And a good south wind rose behind;
The Albatros followed him,
And every day, to eat or play,
He reached the sailor’s hole!
In the same way the men of Jerusalem crucified Christ, who was innocent and brought hope for their salvation. The other sailors were horrified when they discovered that the sailor had killed the albatross:
And had done something hellish
And it would work for them, ay:
For all insured, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze blow.
Alas, miserable! they said, the bird to kill,
That made the breeze blow!
Normally, the song of the nightingale is a symbol of joy and happiness. But Keats wrote this poem when he was suffering too much from his illness. Although he sought happiness through the nightingale, he knew in his heart that he was going to die soon. So, the symbols of death and oblivion are present in this poem. Keats has made numerous references to Greek mythology. In doing so, he has treated the nightingale as if it were a magical bird that was beyond the reach of any sadness. So the bird is magical and free from human suffering. Keats wished he could be like this and overcome all his pain and sadness. In his quest to end sadness, he is like the Buddha. Buddha all his life sought to find a way to free himself from human suffering and achieve salvation. Keats has the same objective and in this poem his nightingale has that magical power, the only problem is that Keats knows that he is a human being and he cannot be like the nightingale.
In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Keats tries to strike a good balance between feeling and thinking. We can find extraordinary sensual passages, as at the beginning. By using the word “sense” and makes the readers feel this numbness as well.
Later, the poet deals with the problems of human life, as in stanza three:
‘Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where paralysis shakes a few sad last gray hair
Where youth pales, grows thin and dies;
Where to think is to be filled with pain.
In contrast to Keats, Coleridge uses the moral teachings of Christianity in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He has put a lot of emphasis on the concept of sin and redemption. In reality, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is like a fable that at first seemed like a children’s story without any deep meaning, but a closer look makes readers realize that it contains the deepest moral teachings. The moral lesson of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is:
He prays better, who loves better
All things, both great and small;
For the beloved God who loves us,
He made and loves everyone.
Christianity teaches us the same thing: love God and his creations. No other religion places so much emphasis on this kind of love. The albatross gave this love to the sailors by bringing them joy and good luck. Therefore, the albatross is also a magical bird. It is the bird that brings good luck and pleasant wind to sailors. The former sailor acted selfishly and brutally by killing him. He was only thinking of his own pleasure. He didn’t even think he was killing an innocent bird for no reason. He was not lacking in food, but he was certainly lacking in kindness. He forgot that there was a god who was more powerful than anyone. God certainly didn’t like that he killed the bird for no reason.
God showed the sailor that no matter how much power a man possessed, he should not be cruel to nature. If they did not follow humanity, they would be punished. The punishment suffered by the sailor was terrible. He suffered the worst form of pain: loneliness and isolation. By nature, human beings are social animals, so being alone on a boat in an endless sea was certainly a terrible thing to suffer. He often wished he had died, but it didn’t happen.
The curse of an orphan would drag you to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is it the curse in the eyes of a dead man?
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse
And yet I couldn’t die.
Only after the sailor realized his sin and prayed deeply to God for forgiveness was he saved.
The very moment I was able to pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell and sank
Like lead in the sea.
In his personal life, Coleridge was not a very religious person, but in this poem he has glorified Christianity in a very high way. Christianity always asks its followers to seek God’s forgiveness every day. If a person prays from the bottom of his heart, God is always ready to forgive him. The poem also shows Coleridge’s deep love for his country, England. When the sailor returned from his trip to England he felt that he had come to heaven
Oh! dream of joy! is this in fact
The top of the lighthouse that I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this my own country?
In conclusion, it can be said that the two poems are among the best poems about birds in English literature. Poets have used birds as symbols and associated them with their own lives. Birds are magical but they contain more than just magic. They take us to another world, an ideal and dream world. The main difference between two poets is that the nightingale seems to be something in heaven for John Keats and has no relation to everyday human life, but is something that is beyond our normal life. On the other hand, the ST Coleridge albatross is something that is related to our daily lives. The sailors fed him and played with him. He was like his only friend in an endless sea.