Poetry Slam Friday: The Odes of John Keats, Ode to Melancholy

I should stop saying it’s Friday when it’s not.

Just as school heats up and people get depressed over the abmysal state of their college applications, scholarships, social life and let’s not forget get—A Levels, Keats drops this ode on us.

Ode to Melancholy gave me chills. And at this rate, I think it’s my favorite. Then again, all of Keats’ Odes are my favorite. On to the reasons why, shall we?

Ode to Melancholy

Background: A Greek Prespective on The Emotion

For anyone who’s short on time, researching only the current English meaning of the word melancholy is enough to write an essay.

melancholy

noun

a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.

“an air of melancholy surrounded him”

 

But let’s not forget; Keats was a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, and the inspiration Ode to Melancholy’s sweet imagery comes from this.

Ode to Melancholy was originally four stanzas.

Just read this:

“The cancelled first stanza of the Ode to Melancholy describes a heroic romantic quest, a voyage to the ends of the Earth to seek out the fabulous Melancholy, a female goddess…”

The Odes of John Keats, Helen Vendler.

Now what or who can cause more hurt than a broken heart? She could be ‘Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips/ Bidding adieu’ but no; Melancholy needs no reason, no person, no cause to perpetrate it.

I don’t know why Keats struck out that first stanza, but I’m glad he did. He instead focused on how melancholy becomes a disease to the patient, and how it can be cured.

What’s that you say? Keats went back to his old profession?

Yes; in Ode to Melancholy he proscribes beauty to heal away ‘the melancholy fit(s)’. He, just as a doctor would, asks the sufferer not to succumb to ‘easeful death’.

Themes: Don’t Commit Suicide.

Depression is real, but you must be strong; nature and beauty will comfort you as you slip deeper and deeper into your depression. J Really, this poem is about transcendence of all emotion, no matter how painful or pleasurable, whether it’s Melancholy, Joy or Pleasure itself.

Diction and Structure

Damn, this poem is dark. Of course, Keats juxtaposes hopeful imagery of “rainbow(s)” and “globed peonies”, he makes mention of witchcraft (“Wolf-bane”), and darkness (“downy owl”). Melancholy is not the same as depression, although it’s only a few shades lighter than it. However, Keats also explains that sadness never goes away; it is simply “veiled” in Joy and Pleasure, which makes more sense than I’d like to believe. “[Your] soul shall taste the sadness of her might”. “Glut thy sorrow”!

Here’s a general outline for an in depth analysis on the meaning of sadness.

  • Stanza 1: Don’t Commit Suicide
  • Stanza 2: Don’t Go looking for “Her”
  • Stanza 3: I Know Where She Lives
  • Stanza 4: You Must be Strong

It almost makes me want to tell you to go watch InsideOut to explain why we need to address sadness. 😀

Intention/Audience

This poem is for anyone struggling with depression. Keats, soon to be in the same position as cancer patients on the verge of dying, accepts his fate. However, he doesn’t want to go out on a low note. He’s no longer a fresh young boy, but “Beauty must die”!

Success.

I touched on how I feel this poem personally. I know I fit in the Melancholic personality type of the Four Humors (Google that, it’s very interesting.)

Keats is spot on when he explains to the reader that either can be solved by appreciating nature, and realizing everything in life is fleeting. Enough life enough to have faith in it inner workings, “And be among her cloudy trophies hung.”

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