Ode on Melancholy (by John Keats) Analysis

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The Poem

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44478/ode-on-melancholy

Background of the Poet

  • John Keats was an English Romantic poet.
  • He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • He is famous for his odes.

Structure and Rhyme Scheme

  • 3 stanzas: each stanza is a décima (10 lines).
  • This is so Keats may effectively develop each area of melancholy equally: the first stanza dealing with all you should avoid when experiencing melancholy, the second stanza develops the experiences of melancholy, and the third stanza discusses the consequence of not experiencing melancholy or trying to escape it.
  • There is a set rhyme scheme (may look confusing at a first glance). The first two stanzas have a set rhyme scheme: ABABCDECDE. However, the last stanza has a non-uniform scheme: ABABCDEDCE. The non-uniformity between the third stanza and the other two could denote how experiencing the last stanza (trying to avoid melancholy) could result in an irregular life and thus this is represented by the altered rhyme scheme, thus breaking the sequence of the poem.
  • The uniformity of the first two stanzas could denote how wanting to poison one’s own self (suicide) due to deep melancholy is something that is experienced by an average person, yet this is the poet’s warning to readers from doing such. However, on the basis of being a feeling regular amongst people, it stays uniform with the consequent stanza.

Title

  • ‘Ode’: A lyric poem, typically one in the form of addressing a particular subject.
  • In this instance, a poem addressing melancholy and how is should be experienced by individuals rather than trying to avoid any form of sorrow.

Themes

  • Sorrow
  • Benefits of melancholy
  • Drawbacks of avoiding unhappiness
  • Instructions on what to do and what not to do when in a position such as this

Language Analysis and Critical Evaluation

  • “No, no, go not…”: Repetition in command to emphasise urgency.
  • “Lethe”: a river in Hades (underworld) whose water when drunk made the souls of the dead forget their life on earth. So Keats is basically saying don’t die/kill yourself/forget about the world just yet. He further develops this by adding more examples, “neither twist / Wolf’s-bane, tight rooted, for its poisonous wine” (poisonous plants), so again adding symbols of things you should avoid because they all represent forgetting the current world and death/dying.
  • Again more examples as you move through the stanza of things to consume that lead to death (symbols), note that the poet uses specifically poisonous plants and materials as a method of death (Proserpine is the goddess of the underworld in classical Greek mythology).
  • Again more symbols “Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be /Your mournful Psyche”, which means don’t align yourself parallel to these insects because they represent death and the qualities of thus. Keats says “Your mournful Psyche”, so he’s saying don’t move towards the idea of death whenever you feel sorrowful or are in despair.
  • “nor the downy owl / A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries” meaning don’t add more and more sadness to your already sorrowful state.
  • “For shade to shade will come too drowsily, / And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul”: Each “shade” (symbol added from the above list) will come slower than the last and thus move you deeper and deeper in the spiral of sorrow and despair, thus prevent you from waking up from your sad state. This means that the more you delve in your unhappiness, the less chance there will be of you to leave this state. Instead, do not move towards symbols that exaggerate your situation/position, but instead know that eventually this time will pass.
  • “Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud”: A contrast between heaven and a ‘weeping’ cloud, also the poet uses a simile here.
  • The “weeping cloud” fosters “the droop-headed flowers” and “hides the green hill in an April shroud”, i.e. examples of phenomena this melancholy causes, “Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose”, so now the poet is proposing solutions on how to solve this melancholy. This is done, again, through more symbols, “morning rose”, “globed peonies”. Note how the poet uses two kinds of the same plant: plants that are poisonous and cause death, yet there are plants which are richly scented and appear beautiful, and thus cause happiness and a way to channel through melancholy.
  • “rich anger shows / Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave / And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.” So there’s repetition “deep, deep” to create some depth in what to do, and other than that it’s self explanatory.
  • “She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die”: Firstly repetition and development of said ‘beauty’. Secondly the poet capitalises the word ‘beauty’, perhaps to denote how vast her beauty is and thus powerful enough to create happiness and to cast away any strains of melancholy. Also there’s caesura to further qualify/develop this “Beauty”, “that must die”.
  • So in this stanza the poet personifies Beauty, Joy, and Pleasure. He capitalises the words as if mentioning a name, therefore to refer to these qualities as if a person.
  • Okay so first off this seems difficult to grasp, but in my opinion the following lines “And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips / Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh, / Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips: / Ay, in the very temple of Delight” means that Joy is personified (lets say a regular person) and is in the temple of Delight (setting/the world we inhabit which is filled with happiness and delight), where due to a moment’s melancholy Joy ‘bids adieu’ (commits suicide “Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips”), despite ‘aching Pleasure night’ (pleasure is very near). Therefore, overall, this can be seen as somewhat ironical, that because a human experiences a momentary unhappiness s/he sees the rest of the world as gloomy and filled with despair, rather than accepting and embracing this moment’s sadness and expecting it to pass eventually where pleasure is nigh (near). In addition, it can also be seen as tragic that people who experience sadness see that there is no other solution but death in order to feel better and expect in the after-life to experience eternal happiness, however it is in this world which is the ‘temple of Delight’ as the poet says and therefore in this temple can happiness be experienced to its full extent because of this momentary melancholy we face. I hope this made sense to you guys.
  • “Veli’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine” (where sovran = sovereign), basically melancholy usually exists as a hidden entity and is only experienced from time to time, and “Though seen of none” can “burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine”, therefore essentially without experiencing melancholy then joy can never be truly experienced and living a life without alterations between joy and melancholy means to eventually give up joy by “bursting Joy’s grape” (symbol). Note that a grape could be used because it is very tasteful and colourful, thus somewhat accurately portraying what joy is.
  • “His soul shall taste the sadness of her might, / And be among her cloudy trophies hung.” So if you don’t experience or attempt to avoid melancholy altogether, then Joy will eventually taste the sadness and despair that exists with the “mistress”, and be among her cloudy trophies hung. Cloudy trophies hung can be a reference to heaven, i.e. that Joy eventually dies and goes to heaven (this is concluded because if you refer back to the second stanza there is a reference to a “weeping cloud” that descends from heaven, so it’s almost as if down from heaven comes despair, and up to heaven goes Joy).
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