How Is Diction Used in the Poem "Ode to a Nightingale"?

Diction refers to the poem’s vocabulary and linguistic style. Any element that relates to the poem’s vocabulary or choice of words, such as specific wording, metaphoric adjectives, or a specialized kind of vocabulary, represents diction. John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” introduces the reader to a dreamer who responds to a singing nightingale. His use of precise language allows him to create concrete sensations and emotions in the reader, establishing the poem’s mood and contributing to its theme.


In poetry, diction is very important because specific word choices relay certain ideas. In the 18th century, for instance, English pastoral and lyric poetry used words such as “howe’er,” a word that appeared in poetry and nowhere else. This word was a particular choice on the part of the writer, and it is now associated with poetry of that time. If a contemporary poet uses the same word, it might imply that he is creating an homage to that time.

Effect of Diction

The selection of words allows the poet to convey a particular kind of attitude, feeling or action. These choices also allow the poet to establish a particular tone for the poem and create a specific kind of mood in the mind of the reader. In his poem, Keats uses precise language to create concrete sensations and emotions in the reader. These sensations establish the poem’s mood and allow the reader to draw certain conclusions about the dualities that exist in life.

Ode's Diction Establishes Conflicting Relationships

The major theme in the ode is the perception of a conflicted existence within human life. The poem’s diction creates a relationship between different aspects of existence. For example, in the first stanza, the narrator hears the nightingale sing, feeling joy and pain, and even so much pain that he feels numb. Words such as “hemlock,” “lethe” and “Dryad” convey the nature of the relationships between joy and pain and numbness and intensity of feeling.


The word "nightingale" is also a choice that Keats made. Instead of simply using the word "bird," Keats choose a particular kind of bird, a nightingale. In the beginning of the poem, the nightingale is presented as a word, but that changes throughout the poem. At the end of the poem, the nightingale is a symbol that stands for a number of things including joy, the artist, the beauty of nature, and the ideal. All of these meanings of one word add levels of complexity to the meaning of the poem in general.

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