Ode on Melancholy
By John Keats
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 shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
About the poem
This poem speaks to the fact that everybody sometimes experiences sadness or melancholy. Keats discourages abuse of drugs or alcohol or other more prominent means of ending those feelings. Instead, as one particularly good analysis explains,
“.. what Keats is saying in the final stanza of ‘Ode on Melancholy’ is that looking upon pleasurable things and reflecting that they will soon die will, surprisingly, cheer us up: it is like an injunction to ‘live each day as if it were your last’, and stop moping about (though admittedly Keats’s way of putting it is considerably more poetical). We cease to appreciate joy when we’re happy, because we take it for granted, much as we take our health for granted – until we fall ill, that is. Then health seems like a precious thing to us – and is even more precious when we reflect that we will not be in good health for long. Indeed, our lives are but a blink of an eye.”
(Excerpted from https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/a-short-analysis-of-john-keatss-ode-on-melancholy/).
About the author
John Keats was born in London on 31 October 1795, the eldest of Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats’s four children. Although he died at the age of twenty-five, [from tuberculosis], Keats had perhaps the most remarkable career of any English poet. He published only fifty-four poems, in three slim volumes and a few magazines. But over his short development he took on the challenges of a wide range of poetic forms from the sonnet, to the Spenserian romance, to the Miltonic epic, defining anew their possibilities with his own distinctive fusion of earnest energy, control of conflicting perspectives and forces, poetic self-consciousness, and, occasionally, dry ironic wit.
Although he is now seen as part of the British Romantic literary tradition, in his own lifetime Keats would not have been associated with other major Romantic poets, and he himself was often uneasy among them. Outside his friend Leigh Hunt‘s circle of liberal intellectuals, the generally conservative reviewers of the day attacked his work as mawkish and bad-mannered, as the work of an upstart “vulgar Cockney poetaster” (John Gibson Lockhart), and as consisting of “the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language” (John Wilson Croker). Although Keats had a liberal education in the boy’s academy at Enfield and trained at Guy’s Hospital to become a surgeon, he had no formal literary education. Yet Keats today is seen as one of the canniest readers, interpreters, questioners, of the “modern” poetic project-which he saw as beginning with William Wordsworth—to create poetry in a world devoid of mythic grandeur, poetry that sought its wonder in the desires and sufferings of the human heart. Beyond his precise sense of the difficulties presented him in his own literary-historical moment, he developed with unparalleled rapidity, in a relative handful of extraordinary poems, a rich, powerful, and exactly controlled poetic style that ranks Keats, with the William Shakespeare of the sonnets, as one of the greatest lyric poets in English.”