Ode on Melancholy

Notes on Ode on Melancholy by John Keats

The main message in this poem is that one must use depression for creativity because

- death is not an option (hypothesis)
- so you must embrace senses and life (antithesis)
- life is transient (resolution)

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd

Keats is saying we can use depression– don’t let it control us. The poem starts with a forceful outcry not to reject melancholy. The 'pale forehead' may be a reference to TB which ended his life.

By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;

Reference to poisonous, hallucinogenic substances– coincides with the ‘half state’ themes seen in many of Keats’ poems (e.g.. Ode to a nightingale)

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.

'shade to shade'.. depression comes as a shadowy presense that can easily take away the essence of the soul. You must fight it.

'wakeful anguish of the soul'.. Keats is saying it is better to have a soul than no soul at all. At least then you have an awareness, and can appreciate the beauty that life holds.. Death is nothingness, so why want to end your life?

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

'weeping cloud'- tears watering plants and creating life

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

This first part of the second stanza is about using sorrow for something beautiful- a fresh creation. Tears taint or nourish it.

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.

'mistress'.. she is a mad woman.. Keats personifies death into a Goddess.
'let her rave'- the beauty is a way out, to escape
'feed deep'- synaethesia
'peerless eyes'- look into soul

She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die;

Dwelling on something good, making it a bad thing. Depression lures you into thinking this.
'Beauty that must die'- Keats feelings about women coming out?

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips

Joy is personified as male and melancholy as female– suggests what Keats thinks of woman– they only cause sorrow for him

Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:

Feeding on victims' melancholy (only those who have experienced joy)

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;

Takes effort to get joy, but once you've got it it's worth it. 'burst' = energy

His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

You have to suffer to become better

Additional points:

Only if you've experienced depression can you embrace happiness.
A glimpse of pleasure is better than nothing at all.
Knowing that there are beautiful things to experience keeps you alive and away from death.
The fact that you sometimes can't get out of depression is a warning of how strong melancholy can grab the soul.


Ode on Melancholy - Further Notes

Summary
The three stanzas of the "Ode on Melancholy" address the subject of how to cope with sadness. The first stanza tells what not to do: The sufferer should not "go to Lethe," or forget their sadness (Lethe is the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology); should not commit suicide (nightshade, "the ruby grape of Prosperpine," is a poison; Prosperpine is the mythological queen of the underworld); and should not become obsessed with objects of death and misery (the beetle, the death-moth, and the owl). For, the speaker says, that will make the anguish of the soul drowsy, and the sufferer should do everything he can to remain aware of and alert to the depths of his suffering.

In the second stanza, the speaker tells the sufferer what to do in place of the things he forbade in the first stanza. When afflicted with "the melancholy fit," the sufferer should instead overwhelm his sorrow with natural beauty, glutting it on the morning rose, "on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave," or in the eyes of his beloved. In the third stanza, the speaker explains these injunctions, saying that pleasure and pain are inextricably linked: Beauty must die, joy is fleeting, and the flower of pleasure is forever "turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips." The speaker says that the shrine of melancholy is inside the "temple of Delight," but that it is only visible if one can overwhelm oneself with joy until it reveals its center of sadness, by "burst[ing] Joy's grape against his palate fine." The man who can do this shall "taste the sadness" of melancholy's might and "be among her cloudy trophies hung."

Form
"Ode on Melancholy," the shortest of Keats's odes, is written in a very regular form that matches its logical, argumentative thematic structure. Each stanza is ten lines long and metered in a relatively precise iambic pentameter. The first two stanzas, offering advice to the sufferer, follow the same rhyme scheme, ABABCDECDE; the third, which explains the advice, varies the ending slightly, following a scheme of ABABCDEDCE, so that the rhymes of the eighth and ninth lines are reversed in order from the previous two stanzas. As in some other odes (especially "Autumn" and "Grecian Urn"), the two-part rhyme scheme of each stanza (one group of AB rhymes, one of CDE rhymes) creates the sense of a two-part thematic structure as well, in which the first four lines of each stanza define the stanza's subject, and the latter six develop it. (This is true especially of the second two stanzas.)

Themes
If the "Ode to Psyche" is different from the other odes primarily because of its form, the "Ode on Melancholy" is different primarily because of its style. The only ode not to be written in the first person, "Melancholy" finds the speaker admonishing or advising sufferers of melancholy in the imperative mode; presumably his advice is the result of his own hard-won experience. In many ways, "Melancholy" seeks to synthesize the language of all the previous odes--the Greek mythology of "Indolence" and "Urn," the beautiful descriptions of nature in "Psyche" and "Nightingale," the passion of "Nightingale," and the philosophy of "Urn," all find expression in its three stanzas--but "Melancholy" is more than simply an amalgam of the previous poems. In it, the speaker at last explores the nature of transience and the connection of pleasure and pain in a way that lets him move beyond the insufficient aesthetic understanding of "Urn" and achieve the deeper understanding of "To Autumn."

For the first time in the odes, the speaker in "Melancholy" urges action rather than passive contemplation. Rejecting both the eagerly embraced drowsiness of "Indolence" and the rapturous "drowsy numbness" of "Nightingale," the speaker declares that he must remain alert and open to "wakeful anguish," and rather than flee from sadness, he will instead glut it on the pleasures of beauty. Instead of numbing himself to the knowledge that his mistress will grow old and die (that "Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes," as he said in "Nightingale"), he uses that knowledge to feel her beauty even more acutely. Because she dwells with "beauty that must die," he will "feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes."

In the third stanza, the speaker offers his most convincing synthesis of melancholy and joy, in a way that takes in the tragic mortality of life but lets him remain connected to his own experience. It is precisely the fact that joy will come to an end that makes the experience of joy such a ravishing one; the fact that beauty dies makes the experience of beauty sharper and more thrilling. The key, he writes, is to see the kernel of sadness that lies at the heart of all pleasure--to "burst joy's grape" and gain admission to the inner temple of melancholy. Though the "Ode on Melancholy" is not explicitly about art, it is clear that this synthetic understanding of joy and suffering is what has been missing from the speaker's earlier attempts to experience art.

"Ode on Melancholy" originally began with a stanza Keats later crossed out, which described a questing hero in a grotesque mythological ship sailing into the underworld in search of the goddess Melancholy. Though Keats removed this stanza from his poem (the resulting work is subtler and less overwrought), the story's questing hero still provides perhaps the best framework in which to read this poem. The speaker has fully rejected his earlier indolence and set out to engage actively with the ideas and themes that preoccupy him, but his action in this poem is still fantastical, imaginative, and strenuous. He can only find what he seeks in mythical regions and imaginary temples in the sky; he has not yet learned how to find it in his own immediate surroundings. That understanding and the final presentation of the odes' deepest themes will occur in "To Autumn."


Ode on Melancholy

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolfs-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.

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.

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 shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.



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