The Odes of Keats

The Odes of Keats

The Odes of Keats

The Odes of Keats

Synopsis

If Keat's odes are an enduring monument to the creative spirit of early British Romanticism, there is nothing monolithic about the poetic achievements they represent. The poems actively resist any attempt to assimilate them to doctrinal unity: to read them is to encounter a wayward genius constantly negotiating between the transcendent and the empirical, "fancy" and facticity, the projected and the perceived. Inevitably, then, Keat's odes both nourish and perplex the diverse modes of critical inquiry- historical, psychological, thematic, and linguistic- to which their modern critics have had recourse.

Excerpt

The “Ode to Psyche” has little to do with the accepted myth of Eros and Psyche. That myth is itself scarcely classical; it comes very late, and as an obvious and deliberate allegory. Aphrodite, jealous of the beautiful Psyche who is drawing her admirers away, commands Eros to afflict her with love for a base creature. But he falls in love with her, and comes to her regularly, always in the darkness. When, against his wishes, she lights a candle to see him, he flees from her. She quests for Eros by performing tasks set by Aphrodite, the last of which is a descent into the underworld. Psyche’s inquiring spirit, which has previously caused her the loss of her lover, now all but destroys her. Warned by Persephone not to open a box sent by that goddess to Aphrodite, Psyche forsakes control again, and is about to be pulled down forever into the darkness when Eros intervenes, persuades Zeus to make Psyche immortal and to reconcile Aphrodite to her. Restored to each other, the lovers dwell together in Olympus.

Keats begins by bringing the reunited Eros and Psyche down to earth. We do not know whether Keats has seen the lovers in a dream or “with awaken’d eyes” in a vision of reality, but either way he has seen them. He finds them at that moment of Keatsian intensity when they are neither apart nor joined together, but rather in an embrace scarcely ended and another about to commence. Eros he recognizes immediately, but Psyche is revealed to him in a moment of astonished apprehension.

The next two stanzas are parallel in structure, and are deliberately contrary to each other in emphasis and meaning. In the first the machinery of worship —altar, choir, voice, lute, pipe, incense, shrine, grove, oracle, and “heat of pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming”—is subtly deprecated. In the second, though the wording is almost identical, the same apparatus is humanized and eulogized. Keats said ironically that he was “more orthodox”

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