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‘Ode On Melancholy’ is a poem written by John Keats. As the title suggests, it is a poem that revolves around melancholy in life and how to approach it.
About the Poet:
John Keats (1795-1821) was an eminent English Poet. He was a notable Romantic, attaining fame after his death at the age of 25 owing to tuberculosis. Famous works of his include ‘To Autumn’, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’.
This poem is divided into 3 stanzas consisting of 10 lines each. Each stanza consists of a quatrain and a sestet written in iambic pentameter.
Analysis and Summary:
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; Make not your rosary of yew-berries, Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be Your mournful Psyche, 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.
The first stanza begins with the persona asking one to not drown out or kill the misery and anguish in one’s self for it will only serve in numbing the “wakeful anguish of the soul”.
This stanza marks out Keats as a Romantic poet and his deep love for Hellenism. To bring out the act of forgetting misery, he references “Lethe”, the river that runs in the Underworld and erases the memories of those who dip in it, according to Greek mythology. Again, his mention of “Prosperine” is a direct reference to the Roman name of Persephone, the Greek Queen of the Underworld and her infamous garden. His bringing in plants such as “Wolfsbane”, “nightshade”, and “yew-berries” brings out his connection with nature and his intricate and extensive knowledge of the same. Here, the “beetle” and “death-moth” act as symbols of death and decay.
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; Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, Or on the wealth of globed peonies; Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows, Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave, And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
The persona then goes on to talk about how, when a melancholic mood strikes one, one should foster it by looking at a “morning rose”, a “rainbow” or “globed peonies”. Otherwise, they ought to indulge their angry “mistress” and look deep into her eyes as she “rave(s)”.
Here, Keats employs simile in the lines “But when the melancholy fit shall fall/Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud” where he compares the arrival of a melancholic mood to a “weeping” cloud. This stanza once again defines him as a Romantic poet with respect to his love for Aestheticism. Keat’s admiration of love, beauty and desire can be seen highlighted in this stanza with his vivid descriptions of the allure of the natural world and the mortal world (the beautiful beloved). It overall urges the readers to embrace melancholy rather than wishing it away.
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: Ay, in the very temple of Delight Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine, 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.
Here, the persona states that Melancholy is always to be seen with “Beauty”, “Joy”, “Pleasure”, and “Delight”. Only a person who understands this can feel the “sadness of her might” and become a victorious trophy of Melancholy.
In this final stanza, Keats connects the beauty represented with nature in the 2nd stanza here and brings out its transient nature– “Beauty… must die”. The idea he brings forth is that Joy and Melancholy go hand in hand and one cannot be experienced without the other– melancholy is thus portrayed as part and parcel of life, inevitable and necessary to enjoy Joy for what it is. In this fashion, he personified “Melancholy” to be a woman, along with “Beauty”, “Joy”, “Pleasure”, and “Delight”.
This is a beautiful poem. Keats captures the concept of melancholy in close association with beauty and joy, bringing forth an ode much appreciated in the literary world.