Q. Rich Sensuousness, well-wrought form and depth of thought are characteristics of Keats poetry. By means of a comparative study examine how Keats poetry reflects these features. A. The three main odes I will discuss are: Ode to autumn, Ode on Grecian Urn and Ode to Melancholy. The Odes bring to perfection Keats’s command of form and richly meaningful use of the English Language. Melancholy -which today perhaps he called depression- was a state at which Keats was very familiar.
The inspiration of the Ode came from a book on the subject by Burton who proposed various remedies to alleviate the ‘melancholy fit’. The first stanza of the Ode emphatically rejects these remedies, which induce oblivion and associate melancholy with thoughts of death. They numb the sense and dull the keen edge of the melancholic experience. The “rosary of yew-berries” can be easily pictured, the sinister berries of the tree that symbolizes death strung together for the purpose of counting one’s prayer.
Keat begins the second stanza by referring for the first time in the poem to melancholy as a disease, a “fit” (line eleven) whose onset is as sudden as a spring shower. The lush imagery of lines twelve and fourteen quickly lures attention away from melancholy to the marvel of an April rain, yet the poet is all the while at work characterizing melancholy itself by means of this extended simile.
To follow the cure for Melancholy in the final lines of the second stanza is to plunge into a series of sensuous impressions so brilliantly and attractively evoked that they make one forget that this is a kind of medicine. The poet commands us to glut first on the rose; then on the rainbow momentarily created as a wave breaks in the sunlight on the sea; and again on flowers, now the blooms of the peony.
The lines containing these commands are heavy with synaesthesia, one of Keats favorite stylistic devices, which consist in mingling the impressions of two or more senses into a single image. The rose, for instance, is obviously a delight to see and to smell, but this is a mourning rose, a blossom at its freshest and best, and the poet bids us to enjoy it so completely as to taste it. Indeed, the word “taste” is too weak, and instead Keats uses “glut”, experience. He likewise invokes several senses to stimulate us to a more intense enjoyment of the peony’s bloom by touch as well as by sight.
In the last three lines of stanza Keats turns his attention intensity of natural beauty to the intensity of feminine beauty. Almost as if alluding to the clichï¿½ that women are most beautiful when angry, the poet chooses the moment in a love affair when emotion is at a very high peak. To evoke the force of such an experience, he engages in this one complex of imagery four of the five senses: touch, “emprison her soft hand”: hearing, “let her rave”, sight, “her peerless eyes”; and taste, “feed deep, deep.” Keat uses these techniques so that the reader is fully involved with the poem as he forces us to work through this lush imagery.
“She dwells with beauty- beauty that must die” – we know see why Keats turns Melancholy to beautiful things: it is inevitable decay of beauty, which is at the core of Melancholy. Not only does the imminet passing of beauty and joy give rise to melancholy but at every moment the pleasurable experience turns to one of pain or satiety. Thus pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, are immediately linked belonging even to the selfsame experience. A series of powerful images enforces these ideas: Joy always on the point of departure, the bee’s nectar turning to poison, the veiled goddess of Melancholy enshrined in the temple of delight, the bursting of Joy’s grape, whose taste turns out sadness.
If the Ode on Melancholy sags a little in the stanza two is certainly prevented from collapse by the vigor and vividness of stanzas one and three. The third stanza is full of images suggesting life and activity such as the figure of Joy caught at a moment of arrested action and the bee at work, culminating in the energetic act of bursting a grape with ‘strenuous tongue’. The ‘taste’ images, too, suggest the physicality of the experiences of pleasure and joy.
In on a Grecian Urn, the subject is a marble urn with scene in relief running around it; it has been shown that the urn here described was not one actually seen, but a creation of Keats’s imagination. The mysterious and beautiful opening lines at once give rise to several ideas: the stillness of the urn, its remaining unspoilt, thought holding out a promise of delight. ‘What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?’. The urns power lies in its appealing to the imagination rather than the senses; sensual experience is always reaching after, or being set against, an ideal of which it falls short: ‘ Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;/ Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d/ Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
The figures on the urn have a sort of ideal existence because they are frozen at a moment of the time and so are immune from life’s vicissitudes: ‘…nor ever can those tress be bare; Bold lover,.. For ever wilt thou love and she be fair.’ The unchanging happiness of the figures is emphasized in stanza three by the repetition of words and phrases: ‘happy’, ‘for ever’, ‘move’, even though their passion is unsatisfied their state far transcends that of mortals for whom satisfaction turns pleasure into safety.
Stanza four introduces a new scene (as if the urn were being turned round). The first scene was wild and ecstatic, suggesting Bacchanalian rites; this one is serene in comparison, showing a formal procession to make sacrifice. The almost frenzied questions of stanza one contrast sounds are suggestive of tranquility. The poet helps us to understand what he has in mind. The pipes on the urn sound “not to the sensual ear” but “to the spirit”. It is significant that Keats does not use a more literally precise word like “physical” to describe the ear. “Sensual” (like “physical”) refers to the body, but it also connotes excessive indulgence, particularly in sexual pleasure, and moral disapproval. Keats then uses this tension between sense and spirit to add one more layer to this tissue of paradox.