Ode on Melancholy. John Keats Lecture 16. About the Poem. In "Ode on Melancholy" Keats accepts the truth he sees: joy and pain are inseparable and to experience joy fully we must experience sadness or melancholy fully.
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Ode on Melancholy
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
He is urging people not to consider suicide when depressed as an escape.
Lethe: in Gk myth soul drank from the river to forget their past lives.
Wolf’s bane & nightshade: poisonous plants that contain sedative
Prosperine: queen of Underworld , daughter of Demeter.
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche,
He stops from contemplating on images of death.
Rosary: string of beads
Yew-berries: symbol of mourning
Beetle: image of death; the sacred scarab worshipped by the Egyptians as a symbol of resurrection of soul
and placed in coffins with the dead. Seals and stamps were created in the shape of scarab.
Death-moth: it carried pattern resembling skull on its body – in classical myth soul was symbolized as the butterfly.
Psyche: goddess of beauty loved by Cupid; in Gk the word means ‘soul’ or ‘breath of life’
Cupid: in Gk means ‘desire’; god of love
nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
Downy owl: ranks with rats & spiders as most celebrated of Halloween creatures.
Poet says that Melancholy will drown all your anguish.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Melancholy will come as sudden as cloud and nourish your soul like unexpected rain revives flowers.
Cloud and April are personified.
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Glut: to your fullest
Morning rose: lasts a short time i.e. the melancholic experience is transitory
Sand-wave: the rainbow produced by the wave too is shortlived.
Globed: description of the round shape of the flowers.
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
Poet turns from nature to people.
Peerless eyes: beautiful
Melancholy becomes part of and nourishes the individual – the lover is asked to enjoy her beauty even when she is angry.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Keats’ philosophy that Beauty, Joy & Pleasure are temporary but adds that suffering is necessary for happiness.
She: refers to Melancholy
Aching pleasure: keatsian oxymoron, pleasure is painful
Bee-mouth sips: as the bee sips nectar, the nectar turns to poison.
Keats tries to show the mixed nature of life: how happiness and sorrow are inextricably linked.
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Delight & Melancholy are personified; Melancholy lives in the temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy: Melancholy is veiled as it is hidden from us during Pleasure.
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
Only those who understand that the two are inseparable can taste real happiness.
Describes the physical act of eating of grapes with the spiritual joy of soul.
mystery rather than clarity
individual rather than society
rebellion rather than acceptance