Notes: 261 and Nightingale

I am continuing develop connective tissue, in a critical context/framework, between Keats’ Odes and the Cheltenham Elegies. Taking “Nightingale” and 261 (“Never one to cut corners…”), and a shared visionary sequence between the two poems— Keats in his poem, through the process of composition (Poesy, and its “viewless” wings), is able to extend the reach of his vision into the dark woods to co-mingle/commiserate with his synecdoche; just as the protagonist of 261, on the viewless wings of Poesy again, is able to “pull a rough U-turn” (“Here’s where the fun starts…”) on Old York Road at midnight, and thus join the ambiguous hero/anti-hero of the poem. This, doubled between the two poems, enacts a transmigration process which is an outlet and a subtext of the visionary, and temporally freezes the sense that what the nightingale/ “rogue driver” of 261 signify— night, death, physical mortality, but also an inverse (perverse) owning of dark freedom and power— is matched by a negatively capable textual engagement.

Never one to cut corners about cutting
corners, you spun the Subaru into a rough
U-turn right in the middle of Old York Road
at midnight, scaring the shit out of this self-
declared “artist.” The issue, as ever, was
nothing particular to celebrate. We could
only connect nothing with nothing in our
private suburban waste land. Here’s where
the fun starts— I got out, motherfucker.
I made it. I say “I,” and it works. But Old
York Road at midnight is still what it is.
I still have to live there the same way you do.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Here is an interesting discrepancy: the “I” in 261 (important, also, to note that the rogue driver’s U-turn being made in the poem may be turning back to Cheltenham) manages to turn the proverbial tables on his companion (rhetorically/textually) twice (“But Old York Road at midnight…”), thus re-living the U-turn twice, rather than Keats’ singular journey into the dark woods. Keats does not begin to develop any kind of bravado against his Muse; conversely, the two textual U-turns in 261 demonstrate first, an ostensible escape from Cheltenham (which amounts to an assertion of personal or individual, artistic success), and then a renascence to a position that what Cheltenham and Old York Road signify are omnipresent in the human continuum; and both express bravado in both individualism and intellectual mastery. So does Keats enter the sensuous, shadowy paradise of the woods and then sink downwards, first into being grounded, then (as an extension) into Lethe-consonant (forgetful) despondency; and these are two textual journeys of visionary identification and self-transcendence. The possible inversion, in which Keats’ Ode, through its ultimate sense of lost, demeaned, defeated yet sensually self-aware consciousness, against textual flights or “Fancies,” constitutes a kind of elegy, while the Cheltenham Elegy, through its ultimate air of sangfroid and mastery (empowerment over harsh circumstances) demonstrates, if not exactly odal joy, certainly a sense of a kind of textual tour de force being enacted in a compressed space, an ambiance of the explosive, which is not in Keats. The nightingale and 261’s rogue driver (Chris) are both phantoms, essentially: rhetorically addressed, evanescent. The negatively capable identification process occurs once in the present (Keats, appropriate for an ode) and once in a visioned/visionary past (261, appropriate for an elegy)— and it is merely textual, unperceived, unappreciated by one inhuman Other (the nightingale) and one human Other (Chris). The ultimate destination, why the identification process is enacted, is for the imagined, individual reader-as-third party.