A Song of Opposites by John Keats Poem Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


John Keats wrote “Fragment: Welcome Joy, and Welcome Sorrow,” commonly referred to as “A Song of Opposites,” in 1818, and it was released after his death. The poem honors all facets of existence, including the dark and sad ones, for their beauty. Keats quotes directly from Paradise Lost by John Milton when Satan encounters a demon guarding the entrance to Hell and learns that Sin and Death are his offspring. They run into Chaos, a chaotic fusion of elements, as they open the portal. Keats adds complexity and intertextuality to his investigation of conflicting forces and the intricacies of human existence by using Milton’s words to express the concept that beauty may be discovered in unexpected and seemingly odd places.

About the poet

Born in 1795 and passing away at age 25, John Keats was an English poet of the second generation of Romantic writers. During his lifetime, his poetry gained only mild attention, but after his passing, it quickly rose to popularity. By the end of the century, Keats had been admitted to the canon of English literature and had a significant impact on a number of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood writers. One ode was referred to as “one of the final masterpieces” in the 1888 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Keats’ style was very sensuous, especially in his odes, which emphasized intense emotion through realistic imagery. His writings, such as “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Sleep and Poetry,” and the sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” continue to be read and discussed in English literature.


Line 1-10

"Under the flag
Of each his faction, they to battle bring
Their embryon atoms." - Milton
WELCOME joy, and welcome sorrow,
Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather; 
Come to-day, and come to-morrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder;
Fair and foul I love together.


The lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost serve as an epigraph, establishing the idea of struggle. The speaker welcomes both joy and grief in the lines that follow, highlighting their admiration for how well opposites may coexist. They enjoy the confluence of fair and foul and find beauty in seeing sad faces in nice weather and hearing laughing in turbulent times.


The Paradise Lost epigraph lays the groundwork for the poem’s recurring theme of struggle and opposition. It alludes to a collision of opposing forces when it mentions factions engaged in combat. The speaker then addresses happiness and sadness directly, personifying them as invited guests. The mention of “Lethe’s weed” and “Hermes’ feather” adds mythical imagery, representing both messages and forgetfulness. This implies that the speaker respects both memory and communication as powerful tools.

The speaker emphasizes his acceptance of both emotions in all stages of life by repeatedly inviting pleasure and grief to arrive “today” and “tomorrow.” They express their gratitude for the existence of both happiness and sadness at the same time by saying, “I do love you both together!” The surprising juxtaposition of opposing emotions is exemplified by the speaker’s strange preference for sad expressions in pleasant weather. This implies an understanding of the depth and complexity of human experiences. Similarly to this, experiencing joy and lightness in the middle of difficult or stressful circumstances is symbolized by the satisfaction of hearing laughing among thunder.

The final line, “Fair and foul I love together,” captures the essential concept of accepting opposites. The speaker sees beauty in the combination of good and evil components, highlighting their shared love for the cohabitation of happiness and misery.

 The speaker’s viewpoint appreciates the depth and complexity of life and finds beauty and significance in the coexistence of happiness and suffering.

Line 11-26

Meadows sweet where flames are under,
And a giggle at a wonder;
Visage sage at pantomime;
Funeral, and steeple-chime;
Infant playing with a skull;
Morning fair, and shipwreck'd hull;
Nightshade with the woodbine kissing;
Serpents in red roses hissing;
Cleopatra regal-dress'd
With the aspic at her breast;
Dancing music, music sad,
Both together, sane and mad;
Muses bright and muses pale;
Sombre Saturn, Momus hale; -
Laugh and sigh, and laugh again;
Oh the sweetness of the pain!


The speaker emphasizes opposing events and pictures to praise how opposites may coexist. They appreciate the beauty of flame-lit meadows, a child’s innocent play with a skull, a pantomime’s solemn look, funerals, and steeple chimes. The embrace of nightshade and woodbine, the hissing serpents inside red roses, and the contrast between a peaceful dawn and a stranded hull are all things they like. The representation of Cleopatra holding an aspic snake represents strength and danger. The contrasted feelings and inspirations are represented by the dancing and melancholy music, as well as the brilliant and pale muses. The speaker also makes reference to Momus, who is connected with mockery, and Saturn, which is linked to sorrow. The speaker recognizes the connection between laughter and sighs as well as the beauty found in suffering, which is both bitter and sweet.


The poem focuses on accepting contrasts and enjoying the complexity of human life. Each line’s opposing imagery draws attention to the wide variety of feelings, circumstances, and personalities that coexist in the world. Examples of the complexity of human experiences include the contrast between calm and hidden intensity, as in “meadows sweet where flames are under,” and the surprising excitement of coming across something remarkable or unknown. The juxtaposition of a funeral and a steeple chime, a baby playing with a skull, a fair morning and a stranded hull, and other events demonstrate how life’s traumas and joys coexist. A mix of power and possible danger is represented by the intertwining of nightshade and woodbine, serpents hissing inside red roses, and a regally attired Cleopatra with an aspic at her breast.

The contrast between upbeat music and sad music illustrates the variety of feelings that people experience throughout life, including happy celebrations and depressing reflections. Bright and pale muses stand in contrast, illustrating the variety of inspiration, which includes both intense and quiet artistic inspirations. The inclusion of Momus, a symbol of mockery, and Saturn, a symbol of sorrow, emphasizes the presence of conflicting forces and viewpoints in the universe. The poem ends by expressing gratitude for the overlapping laughter and sighing experiences, acknowledging the sweetness found in life’s bittersweet elements and the great depth of human experiences. The poem promotes a greater understanding of the richness and complexity that result from the cohabitation of different things, events, and feelings.

Line 27-36

Muses bright, and muses pale,
Bare your faces of the veil;
Let me see; and let me write
Of the day, and of the night -
Both together: - let me slake
All my thirst for sweet heart-ache!
Let my bower be of yew,
Interwreath'd with myrtles new;
Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,
And my couch a low grass-tomb.


The speaker addresses the muses in these lines, urging both the vibrant and the pale muses to come forward without cover. The delights of the day and the mysteries of the night are both things that express a wish to watch and observe. The speaker wants to satisfy their thirst for the flavorful pain of intense feelings and experiences. They see a secluded spot surrounded by yew trees interwoven with new myrtles, with blossoming lime and pine trees. Their preferred last resting place is a low grassy tomb.


The speaker evokes sources of artistic inspiration by addressing the muses, including both vibrant and sorrowful sources. They urge the muses to remove their veils, signifying their desire for clear inspiration and insight. In an effort to express the complete range of human experiences, the speaker desires to notice and write about both the joys and sufferings of life. They seem to be searching for a thorough grasp of reality as they seek to investigate the differences and subtleties present in day and night.

The line “let me slake all my thirst for sweet heart-ache” expresses the poet’s desire for passionate and significantly felt emotions resulting from artistic expression. The envisioned bower represents a quiet, peaceful place for reflection and creativity. It is decorated with yew trees and fresh myrtles. The mention of lime and pine trees in full bloom enhances the idea of richness and natural beauty. The poet’s reflection on mortality and the fleeting aspect of existence is highlighted by their wish for a low, grassy tomb to serve as their couch. These lines collectively explore the range of human experiences, the intensity and emotional depth that art may provoke, and the poet’s desire for unhindered artistic inspiration.