Grief and Joy in John Keats Odes
Summary of Presentation
I argue that John Keats was attempting to reconcile the grief he felt about his brother’s death when he wrote his famous odes by breaking down the forms of Ode on Melancholy and Ode to a Nightingale – paying specific attention to diction and syntax for both, personification for Ode on Melancholy and tone for Ode to a Nightingale.
John Keats was the poet that made poetry accessible for me, Ode on a Grecian Urn being the first poem that evoked a powerful emotional response. As such, I’m rather partial to him and his odes, and, before researching, leaned towards the idea that they have profundity outside of strict form, in particular Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on Melancholy given the depth of negative, aching feeling in them.
Baker, Jeffrey. John Keats and Symbolism. St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
- Jeffrey Baker, in John Keats and Symbolism, obviously, breaks down how John Keats uses symbolism throughout his poetic works. Specifically referencing the chapter called “Nightingale and Melancholy,” which breaks down the inherent similarities found in the two odes, I use Baker’s interpretations as a mirror to my own in order to back up and support my thesis.
Bate, Walter Jackson. The Stylistic Development of Keats. The Humanities Press, 1945.
- In The Stylistic Development of Keats, Walter Jackson Bate broke up the body of Keats work in order to track the ways in which his poetic voice changed throughout his life. I focused on the chapter called “Intensity and Restraint,” which enumerates how the forms and devices used in Keats’ odes mark a subtle difference in his maturity as a poet.
Buzzard, Laura et al. The Broadview Anthology of Romantic Poetry. Broadview Press, 2016.
- Our textbook, I used this as a general reference for Keats.
Everest, Kelvin. Writers and their Work: John Keats. Northcote House, 2002.
- Kelvin Everest’s Writers and their Work: John Keats is a biography of Keats that breaks down his poetry while paying attention to the time in his life in which they were written. I used the sections focusing on the first few odes and Keats’ situation at the time of their writing, as well as the biographical timeline to contextualize his life inside the Romantic Movement.
Vendler, Helen. The Odes of John Keats. Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1983.
- In The Odes of John Keats, Helen Vendler provides detailed interpretation and analysis on all of the odes. Using the chapters on Ode on Melancholy and Ode to a Nightingale, Vendler’s examinations were extremely useful in providing an outside perspective on Keats’ works.
My research confirmed my initial perceptions of an emotional depth influencing the odes. What was surprising however, was how expressive the forms he used actually were. I knew, of course, that in poetry form is content, or that the ways in which the subject of the poem is expressed shapes the subject itself, but I hadn’t realized to what extent this was true for Keats. The aching feeling presented in Melancholy and Nightingale were there in large part because of Keats’ mastery of poetic language and form.