Shrusti Tripathy

Period 6

IB H2 English

13th November 2008

Union of Joy and Sorrow

Commentary on Ode on Melancholy

Ode on Melancholy, a lyric poem by John Keats, written from a romantic’s perspective, embodies the true ideals of this era, to live life to its fullest and experience everything. The speaker encourages his audience as an optimistic person who seems to have experienced melancholy and from his wisdom, he urges the audience to embrace their sorrow. The speaker’s perspective shows him to be a romantic as he believes that experiencing everything includes the sadness in life as well. The speaker, in the first stanza, advises the audience on what not to do in order to experience the ups and downs of life and moves to describing the joys and sorrows in experiencing life in the second stanza and concludes counselling the audience to seek comfort in nature and its beauties.

The speaker helps the reader comprehend the paths he must not take even in the face of distress in the first stanza. The poem begins with the repetition of ‘No, no’ (L.1.) and continues with ‘go not’ (L.1.), immediately establishing an urgent tone, first by the use of the repetition and the spondaic meter which increases the emphasis and thus, the impact of the negative diction. By the creation of the negative imperative, the speaker then follows with ‘to Lethe,’ (L.1.), which is an allusion to a river of forgetfulness in the Greek underworld. Here, the concept of forgetfulness is eschewed by the speaker who goes on to recommend the audience not to ‘twist Wolf’s bane…for its poisonous wine’ (L.2.) This comment regarding partake of poison, as Wolf’s bane is a toxic herb, shows that he condemns it as an escape mechanism. The diction choice of ‘twist’ (L.1.), instead of using coil or roll, shows the forceful nature of this change that would result in the ultimate escape, and thus, the speaker’s aversion to it.  The negative diction then continues telling the audience not to ‘make your rosary of yew-berries’ (L.5.) Here, the rosary is a symbol of death and mourning while yew-berries are an extremely lethal plant when consumed. Additionally, the consonance of the letter ‘y’ in your, rosary and yew emphasizes the lecture of the narrative perspective as the speaker is addressing someone. The motif of death and mourning persists in the speaker advising not to ‘let the beetle…be’ (L.6.), as beetles are known for their association with coffins and are an Egyptian death emblem. The following juxtaposition of images, the speaker compares ‘the death-moth’ (L.6.) with a ‘mournful Psyche’ (L.7.), a moth with a butterfly. The personified butterfly in ‘Psyche’ (L.7.) symbolizes the carefree nature of life, which is grieving and life is at a standstill while they remain melancholy. However, the ‘death-moth’ (L.6.) usually symbolizes death and suicide as moths are often drawn to fire. While both images are reflecting the same motif of death in context, at initial glance, they seem to contradict one another in their symbolism. Keats’ poem would say suicide is an escape from life and it would ‘drown the wakeful anguish’ (L.10.) The diction of the word, ‘drown’, (L.10.) illustrates the sinking feeling, the regret, which one might sense upon making such an abrupt decision. Although the speaker acknowledges the fact that this life might be painful, in the choice of diction, ‘anguish’, (L.10.) which in itself has a tormenting tone, the paradoxical ‘wakeful’ (L.10.) emphasizes the importance of living through these afflictions of life. The speaker’s thoughts in the first stanza admonish suicide or death as an escape from the sorrows in life.

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Since Keats’ first stanza emphasizes the negative aspects of the contemplating suicide during depression, his second stanza shows the positive features of this melancholy and how it could be mitigated naturally. The stanza begins with a conjunction of ‘but’ (L.11.), signifying a change, which can be seen immediately in the positive diction embedded within the stanza. The temporary nature of melancholy is emphasized in ‘melancholy fit shall fall’ (L.11.), where a fit is an unexpected hiccup in the normal dynamic of life and compared to melancholy which is a passing transition as well. The consonance of the letter ‘f’ in ...

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