Ode on Melancholy By John Keats: Analysis

Categories: Plot

Keats’ discussion of melancholy in ‘Ode on Melancholy’ exemplifies the Romantic ideas of nature's healing powers and Keats’ own thoughts of immortality. The sensual images and suggestion of the sublime, provides somewhat of an explanation for the impermanence of melancholic pain. Keats’ ode explains how to endure melancholy, unlike his poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ that focuses on escapism through the personification of the nightingale.

Within the two odes Keats expresses his sadness “my heart aches'' making reference to “hemlock” and “yew-berries'', the consistent allusion to poison/drugs with the means to escape melancholic feelings is presented throughout.

However the idea of escapism is upturned in his later poem ‘Ode on Melancholy’ where he suggests that “the melancholy fit shall fall'', explaining to the reader that you must endure it. Alluding to the idea that pain and pleasure are inextricably linked and much like mortality, melancholy/happiness “must die''. The classical hellenistic reference to “Lethe'' in both poems supports the idea that Keats wants to forget through the use of drugs.

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His suggestion to suicide may possibly be due to the tradegy he has endured, as his brother Thomas Keats died in December 1818 from Tuberculosis. In a conversation with Thomas in December 1817 Keats discusses the concept of Negative Capability, where he states that it is “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. His response to melancholy in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is hypocritical to the concept, as he wants to “fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget”.

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Whereas in ‘Ode on Melancholy’ he embraces this concept and directly tells the reader to endure this depression in order to attain the benefits after- alluding to the idea of pleasure and pain. The benefits possibly being nature’s healing power. The healing power of nature is a Romantic concept, that nature is so sublime it has the ability to heal feelings of depression. To many of the romantic poets nature was treated more like a religion, as it was believed that being amongst nature was the best way to restore and inspire oneself. Both poems tamper with the idea of nature being restorative, Keats relies on this to help him withstand the melancholy he is feeling in ‘Ode on Melancholy’. Whereas he uses nature's power in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ to further escape. Comment by Emma Patrick:

Both poems are written in the form of an Horatian ode, written as a type of contemplation on Keats’ own feelings. Similar to the Latin poet Horace, the tones of the poems are serious and serene, often reflective of ideas. We see this in the two poems when Keats dwells on the melancholy he is feeling. Keats personifies this feeling of sadness through nature, describing the melancholy as a “weeping cloud”, creating an image of depression on natural terms. Portraying this feeling to be so great that it even affects the “droop-headed flowers”. Stanza two tells the reader that we should embrace the transient beauty of nature, which contains both pain and death. And that in order to feel joy we must feel sorrow. The Romantics believed that the seasons represented the cycle of mortality, Keats plays with this concept through the imagery of “shade” and “cloud”, presenting a bleak wintery scene to present this sadness in ‘Ode on Melancholy’. Therefore as spring/summer starts to grow the melancholic feeling disappears in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ where he emmerces himself in the “pastoral eglantine” and “dewy wine”. Relating back to the crucial ideas of nature being restorative to the soul/mind. However, in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ Keats does not thank nature for restoring his will to live like in ‘Ode on Melancholy’ but rather for allowing him the possibility to accept death. The “immortal bird” in the poem experiences a type of death but does not actually die, instead it is capable of living through song. According to Brown, a nightingale had built its nest near his shared house in the spring of 1819. The nature surrounding Keats seems to inspire him for many of his poems, such a ‘Sonnet on the Sea’ of 1817, was written on a trip to the Isle of Wight and describes the sea around him. Proving to the reader that the ameliorative properties of nature are ascribed throughout Keats’ poetry, have allowed him to accept the fate of mortality and heal his melancholy. Comment by Emma Patrick:

In the final stanza of ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ Keats reveals to the reader the intentions of the ode. In the final eighth stanza of the poem Keats creates a sense of acceptance. Despite the melancholy in ‘Ode on Melancholy’ being temporary, death is inevitable and Keats has this realisation at the end of the ode. When the Nightingale flies away the speaker feels intense loss, the feeling of becoming part of the bird's immortal world is dampened. Keats’ odes consist of imaginary thoughts, the power nature throughout shows that everything is possible, except for Keats own immortality. Keats wanted to become immortal through his poetry but realised that this was merely a “waking dream”. The poem ‘Ode on Melancholy’ also presents the idea that pleasure cannot last and like death, melancholy is inevitable throughout life. Melancholy is essential as it is intertwined with the higher beauties of life. The poem praises those who can “burst Joy’s grape”. Keats tells the reader that to be able to experience the “temple of Delight” one must “dwell” on melancholy and beauty combined. As the capability to “burst” this metaphorical grape (the symbol for all good aspects of life) results in the knowledge that eventually “Joy” will be gone.

Both poems contain the same idea that nature and human life is transient, Keats conveys to the reader/Nightingale that life should be experienced to the fullest and that humanity should embrace this melancholy and to endure it, as death is inescapable.The poets tenacious approach to endure this melancholy he is feeling may possibly reflect his determined approach to life. The difficulty of his condition is reflected within his works. His want to escape in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is understandable however these feelings are renounced as the Nightingale’s immortality gives Keats a somewhat new profound viewpoint on life, realising that death and melancholy are unavoidable and must be accepted.

In conclusion, Keats ‘Ode on Melancholy’ supports the idea that melancholy, like death, is inevitable. Melancholy is a dominant figure over joy, Keats explains to the reader that in order to experience joy we must accept and endure depression. The poet intensively uses decorative allusions of nature and Greek mythology to dictate an instruction to the addressed reader, as he suggests melancholy will eventually prevail. Similarly, the poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is an amalgamation of an attempt to escape the sorrows of life, showing Keats’ transition from the mundane melancholy of life to the transient immortality of nature. The reassurance of the nature surrounding him enables Keats to accept inevitable death, as he inspires to be as immortal as the songbird’s song that “wast not born for death”.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Ode on Melancholy By John Keats: Analysis. (2024, Feb 08). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/ode-on-melancholy-by-john-keats-analysis-essay

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