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“Ode on Melancholy”
John Keats

Create hyperlinks within "Ode on Melancholy" to help explain the more difficult words and allusions. Your group must add at least 5 hyperlinks.


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.

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.

Copyright 1820

How is this poem an example of Romanticism? (Answer is well developed paragraphs with specific examples.)

Romantic writers emerged in the 1750s to counter the long streak of reason-based art. They wanted a change from the rationalistic frame of mind to a more nature based and irrational view of life. The main feature of Romantic writing is an inclusion of nature as a source of inspiration. The writers believed that nature contained the answer to everything, and that this was coded in symbols, which they tried to decode in their works. Undoubtedly Keats is a Romantic writer; his themes of nature and the uniqueness of the individual come up in each of the studied poems.
In “Ode on Melancholy” these themes are present throughout each of the three stanzas, but are hidden to the unskilled reader by confusing allusions and imagery. In the first stanza the presence of nature is negative, as the speaker describes the poisonous uses of the wolfs-bane root or the nightshade. The reference to yew-berries and the insects or the owl are all very clear connections to the book of nature. In this case, Keats is not using nature as a way to find the solution; the speaker is telling the melancholic one not to use nature as the answer (committing suicide by taking poison).
These allusions continue in the next stanza with the metaphor of the “droop-headed flowers” which are fostered by the “weeping cloud”. This is a very common but powerful comparison, since one often connects sadness to rain. Nature continues to show up as the speaker tells the melancholic one to “glut thy sorrow” on the roses, the rainbow, the salt sand-wave and the peonies. This list of natural components stands out because of the repetition of “or” at the beginning of the line. Keats is showing how nature has so many wonderful aspects, but a person’s melancholy is superior to this, and one should suppress the beauty of it.
In the last stanza the allusions to nature fade out slowly, appearing only when the “bee-mouth sips”. Keats purposely reduces the amount of nature included in this stanza, because he is trying to display a different element of his writing. The idea of temporary sensation vs. permanent art. He does this by showing that emotions such as Joy are only temporary, but that the “sadness of her might” will always be present “among her cloudy trophies”. By referring so directly to powerful emotions Keats mirrors the Romantic style because they believed art should evoke powerful emotions, which would allow for a subjective treatment of the work by the reader or viewer.
Nature isn’t the only component of romanticism as Keats makes clear in the last stanza. Not only are the natural perspectives important, but also the presence of emotion and the focus on a subjective interpretation, instead of an objective one. Keats successfully integrates these vital aspects into this ode which makes it a powerful example of the Romantic era.
- Yuval J.

How is this poem an example of an ode and lyric poem? (Answer in a bulleted list.)
Displays properties of an Ode when:
  • It depicts the subject matter in a positive light, “feed deep,deep upon her peerless eyes”-Keats tell you to take in the melancholy as if it were a life force(glorification)
  • The subject(melancholy) is developed in a surprising and significant way, “Glut thy sorrow on a morning rose”-Keats asks you to use your melancholy on positive objects, so instead of turning the poem into a positive light, he asks one to remove the positive by attacking it with the negative
  • The poem is divided into stanzas and has a almost fixed rhyme scheme- the poem follows a ABABCDECDE rhyme scheme in the first two stanzas while in the second it shifts to a ABABCDEDCE- this shift indicates the point at which Keats instructs other romanticism artists in the process of eternalising oneself
  • The speaker comes to an epiphany, and clarifies in the poem the role of melancholy towards the end, “in the...temple of Delgiht Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine”- Keats indicates in this line that melancholy is a hidden form of delight and pleasure, but is not a sub-form of delight but is autonomous and thus is a superior form of delight itself
Displays properties of a lyric poem when:
  • The poem is relatively short, and has a single speaker addressing the reader, who is assumed to be in melancholy, “go not to lethe”- this quote shows that Keats uses a speaker that dictates the actions the person in melancholy should undertake; the voice Keats give the speaker/narrator sounds almost authoritarian
  • The speaker mainly expresses personal thought as he characterises melancholy as a positive emotion, which in general public would be considered negative, so the own interpretation or concept of melancholy for the speaker shows that he is expressing his own personal thoughts
-Sandeep R.

What have you learned about Keats that helps you understand this poem in a new way? (Be sure to use the school's databases and cite your information. Answers need to be in well-developed paragraphs.)
Keats’ life had a great influence upon his writings. His negative attitude in the poem can have sprung from various sources. His willingness to absorb such negativity, can be traced back to the fact that he was accustomed to much negativity, as his father died when he was 9. Further more his brother, Thomas Keats, also died at the age of 19, while his own health was ever-deteriorating. His mother’s position stance in life might have also influenced his writing, as his mother, after his father died, remarried, but left that husband quite suddenly, and moved herself and her children to John Keats’ grandmother, Unfortunately for Keats though, his mother died when Keats was 15. A further placed death was that of his grandfather, at the age of 10. So as Keats had so much experience with death, it came only natural to him that death played a predominate role in his poetry. Regarding “Ode to Melancholy”, one could see Keats replacing melancholy with death in his own personal experience, hence stating that it is necessary to accept death, and feed off it, in this case, write off it, and thus instead of feeling sorrow, use this negative feeling to give birth to poetry.

The negative aspects of his poetry can also be explained otherwise. The fact that Keats found the love of his life in Fanny Brawne, was actually a positive experience, but the fact that his health was deteriorating soon after, led him to possibly loose faith in life, and happiness. He probably believed happiness was not meant for him, so instead he decided to absorb and find pleasure in the sorrow and melancholy of his life. This is perfectly articulated by him in his poetry, especially in “Ode to Melancholy”.

Works Cited

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. "John Keats." Literary Reference Center. 23 July 2007. EBSCO. Upper
School Library of FIS. 15 Sept. 2008 <http://search.ebscohost.com/
login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=25837087&site=lrc-live>.
Lescinski, Joan. "John Keats." Literary Reference Center. 17 May 2005. EBSCO. Upper School Library
of FIS. 15 Sept. 2008 <http://search.ebscohost.com/
login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=17043148&site=lrc-live>.

-Sandeep R.


What are some of the purposes of this poem? Why did Keats write it in the first place? (Answers should be in bulleted lists, allowing others to "run" with their own ideas.)

  • In stating the purpose of this poem, we must take into consideration the "missing" first stanza, which undoubtedly contributed to the ode's sense of purpose originally. (see http://tinyurl.com/3msegm for deleted stanza)
  • Keats is giving advice to other writers in Ode on Melancholy. As a speaker addressing readers, he advises that the reader hold onto his or her feeling of sadness.
  • As Romantic poems tend to do, Keats suggests that readers go out into nature for answers to their pain. The images of plants and animals dying hint at nature's sympathetic feeling towards the said readers.
  • Keats wrote this poem, in part, to stress his feeling that melancholy is a Heaven-sent emotion. We see this through his references to the powers of a higher being.
  • Because this ode was written in late spring or early summer of 1819, we can assume that he was still depressed from the recent death of his brother, as well as his financial situation, which unenabled him to marry the woman he loved. Keats himself was beginning to experience the early symptoms of Tuberculosis. Taking into account these aspects of his personal life, it is clear that Keats originally wrote the ode because he was inspired by his own morose emotion at the time.
-Lauren Imwold

Don't forget the link to "To Autumn" work