Ode on melancholy
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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

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Ode on melancholy

Ode on Melancholy

John Keats

Lecture 16

About the poem

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.

  • It differs significantly from "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn," in which the poet-dreamer attempts to escape from reality into the ideal and unchanging world of the nightingale and the urn.

Ode on melancholy

  • This poem has a logical structure or progression.

  • Stanza I urges us not try to escape pain.

  • Stanza II tells us what to do instead--embrace the transient beauty and joy both of nature and of human experience, which contain pain and death.

  • Stanza III makes clear that in order to experience joy we must experience the sorrow that beauty dies, joy evaporates.

Stanza 1

Stanza 1

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.

Ode on melancholy

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

Ode on melancholy

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

Ode on melancholy

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.

Stanza 2

Stanza 2

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.

Ode on melancholy

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.

Ode on melancholy

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.

Stanza 3

Stanza 3

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

Stanza 31

Stanza 3

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.

Ode on melancholy

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.

Ode on melancholy

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.



  • Joy and sorrow and connected.

  • Those who embrace melancholy will always be happy.



  • Reaction to changes in society, to urbanization & industrialization.

  • Reaction to “enlightenment” or so-called intellectualism

  • Reaction against rigid social structures: American & French revolutions

  • Reaction against materialism of age



  • Defined new role for poet, distinguished by intensity of perception & imagination

  • Emphasis on emotion rather than reason

    mystery rather than clarity

    individual rather than society

    rebellion rather than acceptance

  • Role of nature in transformation of character

Romantic poets

Romantic Poets

  • Wordsworth: Nature for man’s intellectual and spiritual growth

  • Coleridge: supernatural aspect of Nature & role of poet’s imagination (imagery)

  • Shelley: Nature as inspiration for change and reforms (‘poet is the author of revolutions in opinion’)

  • Keats: Nature as a means to escape from this world, his negative capability.

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