Ode on Melancholy Analysis

Ode on Melancholy Analysis | John Keats

  • May 20, 2022
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John Keats is famous for writing poetry for the sake of poetry. One of the best characteristics of his poetry is that he does not write books to give any moral lesson to human beings; rather he is a supporter of the famous rule “art for art’s sake”. John Keats is a pure romantic poet as obvious from the critical analysis of his famous poem Ode on Melancholy as well as from the critical appreciation of Ode to Nightingale. As the name suggests there is a discussion about sadness in this ode. The poet tells his readers what to do and what not to do in order to overpower sadness despite the fact that he himself remained sad his whole life. Ultimately, he died at a very young age due to tuberculosis.

John Keats is of the view that happiness and sadness run side by side. In fact, he believes that happiness is an occasional episode in a general drama of pain. It is not wrong to say that every romantic poet believed so. When a poet is unable to face realistic life, he escapes to the world of imagination so as to find peace and harmony. In this poem, the poet suggests something to his readers though there is subjectivity in it.

Stanza I

It starts with the words “no, no”. It means that the poet stops and directs not to do something. The very next word is its explanation; the poet says do not go to “Lethe”. It is obvious from the analysis of the autobiography of John Keats that he is very much passionate about learning and questing Greek myths as evident from Ode on Melancholy. Lethe is one of the five underworld rivers in Greek myths. It is the river of forgetfulness. The ode is on melancholy and the poet does not like the idea of forgetting the sad and intense incidents; thus, it means that forgetting a thing is not a good practice to conquer melancholy. One should not try to forget everything to soothe himself. 

It is the beauty of life that somewhere there are good moments whereas sometimes bad incidents happen in life. Escapism also works for those who cannot do their best in reality. Real-world is full of pain and sadness but it is the only thing that makes happiness enjoyable. Remembering harsh days in happy days of life gives a person satisfaction; hence, there are many reasons why John Keats suggests not drinking the water from River Lethe to forget everything. 

Further, committing suicide and ending life is also not a considerable option for human beings. “Wolf’s-bane” is the name of a poisonous plant. It is said that if the plant is eaten, it slows down the heartbeat, which steadily pushes a person to death. In this way, the poet is not in favour of ending the life to forget the sadness. 

In the next lines, the poet again refers to the myth. Analysis of ancient myths shows that “Proserpine” is the goddess of wine in the underworld to whom John Keats refers in Ode on Melancholy. In many other Odes, he seems obsessed with wine. He drinks wine, which helps him in escaping from reality; however, he is not in favour of drinking it when someone feels isolated from the world or faces gloomy days.

He further advocates the principle of not indulging in such activities which increases sadness. In short, negative thinking always saddens the sufferer. John Keats is the most sensitive poet. It is, therefore, he is the most escapist; hence, becomes the most romantic poet. It seems that he has a good experience to face the harshness of life. His autobiography is obvious that he tried all the aforementioned options but none of them was helpful in curing his sorrows. Thus, he advises avoiding those methods as they are not helpful at all. 

Critical analysis of the first stanza of Ode on Melancholy shows that there is a portrayal of the theme of melancholy. The approach of the poet is not negative but positive. It appears that he has a strong belief that everyone has to go through sadness at least once in life. As a result, he promotes positivity. There are also allusions to Greek myths. Some precautionary measures are there that a person can take but the poet does not mention them in the first stanza. He just stops taking some common steps that everyone takes when he becomes sad. In short, the first stanza suggests the things that a person should not try when he feels dejection. 

Stanza II of Ode to Melancholy Analysis

The poet then talks about those things that a person may do at the time of bad days in life. In the first four lines of this stanza, the poet defines the impact of melancholy on the mind of a sufferer. He believes that it strikes a person like a thunderstorm due to which he cries like the sky cries after thunderstorms. The poet uses a simile to make the effect clear. John Keats often uses the technique of comparing things to clear the mindset of his readers. The poet uses “green hill in an April shroud” as a symbol. Happiness increases the life of a person and also boosts creativity but melancholy barrens the land. It also affects the imagination.

A person should embrace melancholy as it is, says the poet. He uses images such as “morning rose”, “rainbow” and “globed peonies” flowers. In deep meanings, the poet gives a message that everything is not permanent; roses are temporary, rainbows do not remain the whole day in the sky and flowers do not blossom all the time; yet they are beautiful. It is part of nature. Similarly, melancholy does not remain all the time with everyone. Analysis of these lines of Ode to Melancholy in simple words is that the time passes due to which things are temporary. It is a bounty that the time does not remain the same. Thus, one suggestion that the poet gives to overcome melancholy is to embrace it. 

In the last two lines, the poet talks about love life. There may be certain reasons for melancholy, one of which is when a lover becomes angry. The poet gives a solution to this problem while saying that the beloved should see in the eyes of the lover and should express the anger as soon as possible. It is also another way to get rid of melancholy. 

Stanza two of the poem is highly philosophical. The poet compels us to believe that beauty is temporary in the middle three lines, he indirectly mentions this fact. Thus, there is an indirect way to say that beauty is not everlasting. 


The stanza starts with personification. The poet uses the word she for melancholy. “She [melancholy] dwells with beauty”. It is perhaps the most quoted line of John Keats. Where there is beauty there is melancholy. In the previous stanza, the poet says that beauty is temporary but he is also of the view that beauty lives with melancholy. He again stresses the mortality of beauty. “Beauty that must die” means that the beauty is not everlasting; however, he also wants to illustrate that the melancholy, in the same way, is also not immortal; hence, people should not take it for granted.

In this part of the poem, the poet illustrates the joy that one can get from melancholy if one tries to get it. Joy and beauty are there with it. One who tastes joy must taste it too. If there is no melancholy, one cannot realise the bounty of happiness. It is in human nature that they understand things through the method of comparison. For instance, if there is no darkness in the world, one could not understand the importance of life. It is also the case with joy and sadness. Sadness is the only reason why everyone realises the importance of joy in life.

John Keats gives practical and real-life examples in this part of the poem. The poet has only one solution to melancholy. He suggests that one must embrace it. It will not live with a person forever but fades day by day. Thus, instead of going away from it or committing suicide, one should accept it as a part of life. 

In addition, if beauty remains forever, there is no joy in seeing it. John Keats in many odes talks about the immortality of art and beauty. Critical appreciation of Ode to Nightingale shows that the poet elaborates on the mortality of human life and compares it with the immortality of the song of the bird as he does an analysis of beauty in Ode to Melancholy.

Suffice to say that the poet gives a practical solution to deal with melancholy. He also supports his arguments with examples. The ode contains three stanzas. It follows the rhyming scheme of ABABCDEDCE. 


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