Notes On Ode to Indolence by John Keats

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Ode on Indolence

Basic Outline

        A young man spends a drowsy summer morning lazing about, until he is startled by a vision of Love, Ambition and Poesy. He feels stirrings of desire to follow the figures, but decides in the end that the temptations of his own indolent morning outweigh the temptations of Love, Ambition and Poesy.

Stanza 1

        Keats speaker describes a vision he had one morning of 3 strange figures wearing ‘white robes’ and ‘placid sandals’. They pass in profile and the speaker describes their passing by comparing them to figures carved on the side of a marble urn. When the last figured passed by, the first figure reappeared, just as would happen if you turned a vase. ‘White’ and ‘placid’ create a sense of purity and innocence. The urn is a recurring image which is also apparent in the ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’.

Stanza 2

        The speaker addresses the figures directly, asking how he didn’t recognize them and how they sneaked up on him. He suspects them of trying to ‘steal away and leave without task’ his ‘idle days’ and then describes how his morning went before they arrived – lazily enjoying the summer day in sublime numbness. He asks the figures why they didn’t disappear and leave him in his indolent nothingness. He mentions the ‘drowsy hour’ being ripe, but fails to state what time of day it is. Keats slips into the oblivion of sleep, he doesn’t care about pain or pleasure. His sleep allows him to flee everything, but their presence interrupts his escape. They make him uneasy and he wonders whom they are and why they are there.

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Stanza 3

        The figures pass by for the third time, they suddenly disappear leaving him curious, and the speaker feels a powerful urge to follow them. He learns that they are Love, Ambition and Poesy. He calls Poesy ‘my demon’ and ‘maiden most unmeek’ making it personal, and showing his inspiration tortures and torments him.

Stanza 4

        The speaker urges to follow the figures again as they disappear (‘faded and forsooth’ – alliteration) but states that the urge is folly. Love is fleeting, Keats cannot find it. Ambition is mortal, it is short lived. Poesy offers nothing that compares ...

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