In the spring of 1819, John Keats experienced one of the greatest bursts of creativity in the history of art and science. When fully considered, the astounding poetic achievements of the spring of 1819 parallel Einstein’s celebrated “miracle year” of 1905. Just as Einstein revolutionized our very idea of the universe, overthrowing the linear conception of space and time, Keats opened new vast vistas into the domain of the creative imagination and its power to capture truth. 1819 might rightly be considered Keats’s “miracle year.”
To fully appreciate the nature of Keats’s creative breakthroughs, we should start by dispelling a popular belief that many academics insist on keeping alive: that Keats was a Romantic poet. Contrary to their interpretation, the nature of the "Great Odes" was anything but Romantic. Romanticism was characterized by a focus on titillating descriptions of an idealized nature and sensual world. While Keats did avail himself of lush and natural imagery similar to that used by the Romantics, the use oof such imagery represented a fundamentally different kind of universe in the hands of a poet like Keats.
William Wordsworth and the Romantic school in general usually contented themselves by simply entertaining the senses with pleasant imagery. For example, in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the universally acknowledged manifesto of Romantic poetry, Wordsworth was explicit about his intention to keep readers in the company of “flesh and blood,” that is, to avoid higher forms of metaphorical ideas and paradoxes that challenged audiences to venture beyond their sensory experience of the world:
"The Reader will find that personifications of abstract ideas rarely occur in these volumes; and, I hope, are utterly rejected as an ordinary device to elevate the style, and raise it above prose. I have proposed to myself to imitate, and, as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of men . . . I have wished to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall interest him."
However, Wordsworth himself recognized the limitations of such poetry:
"But, whatever portion of this faculty we may suppose even the greatest Poet to possess, there cannot be a doubt but that the language which it will suggest to him, must, in liveliness and truth, fall far short of that which is uttered by men in real life . . . However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the character of a Poet, it is obvious, that, while he describes and imitates passions, his situation is altogether slavish and mechanical, compared with the freedom and power of real and substantial action and suffering."
Had Keats simply been another poet of the Romantic school, he would have embraced Wordsworth’s view of poetry. Had this been the case, the Odes would have never been possible.
For Keats, poetry represented the creative agency by which he could transcend the very limits defined by the contemporary view of poetry and art, the limits of the senses, and a purely mortal sense of identity.
In this respect, “The Ode on Indolence” is a perfect entry point for exploring Keats’s celebrated miracle year because the subject of the ode is the process of creativity itself. Keats describes, or more precisely takes us through his own process of wrestling with creative inspiration and becoming the instrument of what he refers to as his “visions.” It flies directly in the face of the popular literary practices of aspiring writers today who often lack genuine inspiration or ideas to write about, those busying themselves with “writing prompts” and self-help styled articles that might sound something like, “Seven Steps to Having a Productive Writing Day” or “How to Find Inspiration When You Have None.” Rather than a manual or step-by-step guide to writing, Keats discovered an awakening of his creative powers by confronting one of the greatest paradoxes of the human condition: mortality.
Confronting one’s mortality is something which any truly creative person must do if they are to fully develop and sustain their gifts over a lifetime. Keats thus becomes one of our greatest allies in discovering and unfolding our own creative potential. He does this by taking the reader through his own creative process and getting him to relive the kinds of paradoxes Keats had to confront within himself in order to give birth to the ideas whose uttered expression came to be known as the Great Odes.
The “Ode on Indolence” begins with a visitation by three mysterious shadows which seem to have leapt off a Grecian Urn. Keats does not initially recognize the figures, though he highlights their familiar Greek attire, their “placid sandals” and “white robes.”
"One morn before me were three figures seen,With bowèd necks, and joinèd hands, side-faced;And one behind the other stepp’d serene,In placid sandals, and in white robes graced;They pass’d, like figures on a marble urn,When shifted round to see the other side;They came again; as when the urn once moreIs shifted round, the first seen shades return;And they were strange to me, as may betideWith vases, to one deep in Phidian lore."
By the second stanza, the creative tension of the piece begins to unfold.
"How is it, Shadows! that I knew ye not?How came ye muffled in so hush a mask?Was it a silent deep-disguisèd plotTo steal away, and leave without a taskMy idle days? Ripe was the drowsy hour;The blissful cloud of summer-indolenceBenumb’d my eyes; my pulse grew less and less;Pain had no sting, and pleasure’s wreath no flower:O, why did ye not melt, and leave my senseUnhaunted quite of all but—nothingness?"
Keats was in a dream-like state, and failed to recognize those familiar figures—figures which he accuses of leaving “without a task my idle days.”
Keats tells us how “The blissful cloud of summer indolence benumbed my eyes,” and a result his “pulse grew less and less; Pain had no sting, and pleasure’s wreath no flower.” He is essentially describing a state in which the senses have been numbed to the point of being effectively dead.
But is this a literal death?
Take the famous passage by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo dialogue:
"And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world. . . . For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying."
Is the philosopher described by Plato one who longs for a literal death? Were this the case, then such a philosopher might simply look for the closest bridge and jump off. The truth is that Plato was a poet, and as a poet, he takes the idea of death as it is generally known and elevates it to the level of a poetic metaphor. It compels us to conceive of what is left once all the senses or sense-perceptions have fled. For one whose identity is generally anchored in sense perceptual things, his possessions, his environment, et cetera, the metaphor of death is very threatening. But is this not what opens the door to a proper investigation of things beyond any direct sense perception, such as the human mind, creativity, that which persists beyond our mortal selves, in which we may yet participate?
Is the “nothingness” to which Keats refers, then, truly nothing in the sense of emptiness devoid of all experience, or is it that all the typical obstacles that assail us in our mortal condition have all vanished? What happens when all the typical things that we have become accustomed to being assailed with on a daily basis suddenly disappear?
Rather than dwell on those questions, let us attempt to understand Keats’s meaning by seeing what happens on the other side of this “nothingness”:
"A third time pass’d they by, and, passing, turn’dEach one the face a moment whiles to me;Then faded, and to follow them I burn’dAnd ached for wings, because I knew the three;The first was a fair Maid, and Love her name;The second was Ambition, pale of cheek,And ever watchful with fatiguèd eye;The last, whom I love more, the more of blameIs heap’d upon her, maiden most unmeek,—I knew to be my demon Poesy."
The figures in question, whose identities had remained unknown at the end of the second stanza are now revealed. They are the figures Keats had become so acquainted with in his quest for earlier poetic success, figures which he writes about in his sonnets on fame and his famous “When I Have Fears”:
"They faded, and, forsooth! I wanted wings:O folly! What is Love? and where is it?And for that poor Ambition! it springsFrom a man’s little heart’s short fever-fit;For Poesy!—no,—she has not a joy,—At least for me,—so sweet as drowsy noons,And evenings steep’d in honey’d indolence;O, for an age so shelter’d from annoy,That I may never know how change the moons,Or hear the voice of busy common-sense!"
The great irony lies in the fact that these passing shadows—Love, Ambition, and Poetry—are presented as impediments to the kind of experience he hopes to have.
In his desired state of “nothingness,” Keats experiences what he calls “visions,” things unimpeded by the intervening sense-impressions of the world, such as “the sound of busy common sense” and “how change the moons.”
He is no longer concerned with the pursuit of achievement, poetic fame, or success, or even with the desire for being loved. Rather than chase after poetry, he is ready to let poetry find him.
Keats has abandoned all earthly desire, both noble and superficial. As a result, all earthly desires and concerns have abandoned him. He describes this state as a kind of “blissful indolence.”
In his “blissful indolence,” Keats is unfazed by the hopes, fears, desires, or concerns of daily life:
"And once more came they by:—alas! wherefore?My sleep had been embroider’d with dim dreams;My soul had been a lawn besprinkled o’erWith flowers, and stirring shades, and baffled beams:The morn was clouded, but no shower fell,Tho’ in her lids hung the sweet tears of May;The open casement press’d a new-leaved vine,Let in the budding warmth and throstle’s lay;O Shadows! ’twas a time to bid farewell!Upon your skirts had fallen no tears of mine."
Suddenly, Keats describes the kinds of rich experiences that find him: his sleep is “embroider’d with dim dreams”; his soul is a “lawn besprinkled o’er with flowers, and stirring shades and baffled beams.” Suddenly the music, the “throstle’s lay” finds him, and poetry becomes as natural as leaves on a tree. Keats is completely indifferent to the intruding figures that had caused him so much consternation in the past.
"So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raiseMy head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;For I would not be dieted with praise,A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!Fade softly from my eyes, and be once moreIn masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,And for the day faint visions there is store;Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,Into the clouds, and never more return!"
As the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in his "A Defence of Poetry," even the greatest poet cannot simply sit down and compose as if by some regimented habit. The poet will never find poetry, poetry must find him. But in what state will poetry find him? When does poetry visit the poet? Is it in times of great ambition and egotistical hopes of fame and praise and glory?
The most profound creativity emerges from an intense and impassioned feeling which longs to communicate something that lies beyond what we can simply touch, taste, hear, see, and smell; it is located deep within the soul, beyond the grasp of the senses. The process of digging deep into one’s soul, and struggling to bring such passions into the real world, to “name” them, is arguably one of the most difficult challenges any mortal faces. It also parallels the process of discovery any great scientist must go through in order to develop a hypothesis, which the universe will favorably respond to.
The “Ode on Indolence” is a timeless account of the emotional process the poet or artist must experience in order to become capable of receiving what Keats calls “visions.” But what to him were visions, the world over now knows as the Great Odes.
David Gosselin is a writer, researcher, and translator based in Montreal, Canada. He writes on Substack at Age of Muses.
This ode, on an abstract idea “Indolence,” is about a speaker who is daydreaming about the three figures noticed on an urn. Indolence or laziness is an inclination to lethargy. To be specific, it is about a poignancy and immobility that hinders one from active pursuits.What are the three figures in ode to indolence? ›
The speaker feels a powerful urge to rise up and follow them, because he now recognizes them: the first is a “fair maid,” Love; the second is pale-cheeked Ambition; and the third, whom the speaker seems to love despite himself, is the unmeek maiden, the demon Poesy, or poetry.What is Phidian lore Why does the poet refer to it Ode on Indolence? ›
(The “Phidian lore” the speaker refers to at the end of the first stanza is a direct reference to the earlier poem: Phidias was the sculptor who made the Elgin marbles.) In this way, the “Ode on Indolence” makes a sort of preface to the other odes.Why in particular was Keats suspicious of ambition in ode to indolence? ›
Answer. Answer: Keats was very suspicious of what worldly success might mean for a poet. If the only means of achieving fame was to write superficial and sentimental verse (characterised as being a 'pet-lamb in a sentimental farce'), then Keats wanted none of it.What is the main theme of the poem to? ›
Theme is the lesson about life or statement about human nature that the poem expresses. To determine theme, start by figuring out the main idea.What is the central theme of the poem? ›
The central theme of a poem represents its controlling idea. This idea is crafted and developed throughout the poem and can be identified by assessing the poem's rhythm, setting, tone, mood, diction and, occasionally, title.What are the two types of ode? ›
- Pindaric ode. Pindaric odes are named for the ancient Greek poet Pindar, who lived during the 5th century BC and is often credited with creating the ode poetic form. ...
- Horatian ode. ...
- Irregular ode.
- Relatively speaking, an ode is the longest of all lyric forms.
- The poet apostrophizes a person or a thing. ...
- The ode always expresses lofty & noble sentiments.
- The tone of the ode is always formal. ...
- It has a very elaborate & complex stanzaic structure.
An ode is a lyrical poem that expresses praise, glorification, or tribute. It examines its subject from both an emotional and an intellectual perspective. Classic odes date back to ancient Greece, and they contain three sections: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode—effectively a beginning, middle, and end.What does the poet mean by deathless ditties? ›
In the second stanza, the poet says that all the artists and writers of the world go on to create deathless ditties(a short simple song) and fabulous story to share with everyone. Through their creation, they create cities and empires which are to continue living through generations.
Why does the author repeat the words happy and for ever in stanza three of poem Ode on a Grecian Urn? ›
Keeping in his mode of repetition, the speaker keeps using the words "for ever" to make the point that the people on the urn are frozen in time. The world of art is eternal.Who is the winged boy in the poem Ode to Psyche? ›
Psyche was the youngest and most beautiful daughter of a king. She was so beautiful that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was jealous of her; she dispatched her son, Eros, the god of love (the Cupid of Roman mythology and the “winged boy” of Keats's poem) to punish Psyche for being so beautiful.What is Keats most famous poem? ›
John Keats is one of greatest Romantic poets, best known for works such as 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'.Why do you think the poet expresses the same idea twice in the first line and the ninth? ›
The ninth line 'The Poetry of earth is ceasing never' is similar to the first line and expresses the same idea. The poet expresses the same idea twice to reiterate his belief that the music of the earth is unceasing and remains constant even though the seasons may change.What is poetry according to Keats? ›
In the early years of his poetic career Keats regarded poetry primarily as a form of escape. The poet, he believed, fleeing from the painful realities of life, takes refuge in a dream world of enchanting beauty and unalloyed bliss.What is the moral message of the poem? ›
A moral is the meaning or message conveyed through a story. The moral is the meaning that the author wants the reader to walk away with. They can be found in every type of literature, from poetry to fiction and non-fiction prose. Usually, the moral is not stated clearly.What is the message of the poet? ›
Message is the thing that encourages poets to create poetry. The message can be found after knowing the meaning of poetry. Message or advice is captured by readers as the impression after reading the poem. How the reader to conclude message poetry is closely related to the point of view of the reader toward something.What is the writer's main purpose in the poem? ›
The author's purpose is their intent (or purpose) for writing something. To either persuade, inform or entertain an audience.What is the central purpose of the story? ›
Theme is the main or central idea in a literary work. It is the unifying element of a story. A theme is not a summary of characters or events. Rather, it is the controlling idea or central insight of the story.What is the tone in the poem? ›
The poet's attitude toward the poem's speaker, reader, and subject matter, as interpreted by the reader. Often described as a “mood” that pervades the experience of reading the poem, it is created by the poem's vocabulary, metrical regularity or irregularity, syntax, use of figurative language, and rhyme.
In poetry, the mood describes how word choice, subject matter, and the author's tone convey an overall feeling that characterizes the emotional landscape of a poem for readers.What is the difference between an ode and a poem? ›
An ode is a formal lyric poem that is written in celebration, appreciation, or dedication. They are generally directed as a specific person, place, idea, or object. Unlike other forms of poetry, the ode does not have a strict line or stanza requirement.What is a famous ode? ›
In 1819 John Keats wrote five of his most famous “odes.” These odes included “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Indolence,” “Ode on Melancholy,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode to Psyche.” Critics cite these poems as some of Keats' best work.What are the three terms of ode? ›
- Autonomous ODE.
- Linear ODE.
- Non-linear ODE.
An ode is a form of lyric poetry — expressing emotion — and it's usually addressed to someone or something, or it represents the poet's musings on that person or thing, as Keats' ode tells us what he thought as he looked at the Grecian urn.What is called an ode? ›
A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Its stanza forms vary. The Greek or Pindaric (Pindar, ca. 552–442 B.C.E.) ode was a public poem, usually set to music, that celebrated athletic victories.Why is the ode important? ›
The Ode of Remembrance has been recited to commemorate wartime service and sacrifice since 1921. Reading a poem at a commemorative service can help the audience to understand the wartime experience of service men and women. Well-known wartime poetry is often used during commemorative services.What are the rules of a ode? ›
What is the formation of an ode? Modern odes are usually rhyming — although that isn't a hard rule — and are written with irregular meter. Each stanza has ten lines each, and an ode is usually written with between three and five stanzas. There are three common ode types: Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular.Is ode a figure of speech? ›
An ode is a form of poetry such as sonnet or elegy. Ode is a literary technique that is lyrical in nature, but not very lengthy. You have often read odes in which poets praise people, natural scenes, and abstract ideas. Ode is derived from a Greek word aeidein, which means to chant or sing.How do you identify an ode? ›
An ode is a poetic form that's best described as a song or poem written in praise or celebration of an object, a place or an experience. It is a positive, usually exuberant, piece of work that, today, need not be written in meter or rhyme, though a poet may choose to use these devices if she wishes.
Answer: A chameleon resembles a lizard and is a small, wingless, fearless creature. The poet says that when there is nothing visible on the tree, there is the chameleon camouflaged with the tree.Who are the movers and shakers in the poem? ›
Referring closely to the poem, We are the Music Makers, refer to any two examples given by the poet which identify poets and singers as “movers and shakers.”Who are world losers and world Forsakers in the poem? ›
Answer: World-losers are the ones from whom we learn to correct ourselves because they make mistakes from which we learn whereas the world-foresakers are the ones who give up something valuable and make an example out of themselves.Why are the given lines repeated at the end of the poem? ›
When a line is repeated in a poem, it's a technique called refrain. Some poems have a regular refrain whereby a line is repeated at the end of each stanza. Refrains contribute to the rhythm and beauty of a poem. As other types of repetition, the refrain emphasizes an idea and gives the poem a persuasive tone.What is the repeated line in the poem? ›
In poetry, a refrain is a word, line or phrase that is repeated within the lines or stanzas of the poem itself.Which is the line repeated in stanza Why? ›
Answer. In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the end of a stanza in a poem or at the end of a verse in a song.Did Psyche get wings? ›
Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Psyche (/ˈsaɪkiː/; Greek: Ψυχή, romanized: Psukhḗ) is the Greek goddess of the soul and often represented with butterfly wings. Psyche was commonly referred to as such in Roman mythology as well, though direct translation is Anima (Latin word for "soul").Why is Psyche depicted with wings? ›
She is often shown as having butterfly wings, which makes a lot of sense, since her name not only means "soul" in Greek, but also "butterfly." We're guessing her butterfly wings were probably totally necessary to keep up with her famous winged husband, Cupid (a.k.a. Eros), god of love and desire.Does Psyche have butterfly wings? ›
Psyche's mythological imagery in ancient art is represented with butterfly wings, amply depicted in pottery as well. Freed from death, the body of the soul could fly freely, soaring, departing from the shackles of the chrysalis.What was Keats first ode? ›
"Ode to Psyche" is a poem by John Keats written in spring 1819. The poem is the first of his 1819 odes, which include "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to a Nightingale".
Below are some famous quotes from John Keats: “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”What is the most beautiful love poem ever written? ›
- "How Do I Love Thee?," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. ...
- "When You Are Old," by William Butler Yeats. ...
- "Sonnet 116," by William Shakespeare. ...
- "undefined," by e.e. cummings. ...
- "Love Sonnet XI," by Pablo Neruda. ...
- "When I Too Long Have Looked Upon Your Face," by Edna St. ...
- "Valentine," by Carol Ann Duffy.
These structures are also known as the elements of poetry. The basic elements of poetry include meter, rhyme, scheme, verse, and stanza. In order to dive deeper into poetry, students will first need to understand these structural elements.What is the poet suggesting to us in the first two lines? ›
The first two lines appeal to the reader to count till twelve and keep silent. The speaker expresses his desire for silence and peace as an answer to end mindless activity.What do the last two lines in the poem mean? ›
The last two lines of the poem mean that the poet accepts reality. The poet made a choice and took the challenging path. He wanted do something different in his life so he choose the less travelled road.What are the 3 types of poetry? ›
There are three main kinds of poetry: narrative, dramatic and lyrical. It is not always possible to make distinction between them. For example, an epic poem can contain lyrical passages, or lyrical poem can contain narrative parts.What is the central theme of Keats works? ›
One central theme within many of John Keats' works is the importance of friendship. For example, Keats writes, “My Chest of Books divide among my friends.” (Sharp 1:124), which shows that he wishes for his prized possessions, his books, to be given to his closest friends after he passed away.What is Keats writing style? ›
Romantic poet John Keats's writing style consisted of the use of imagery personification, metaphors, and alliteration.What is the theme of the poem Ode on Melancholy? ›
"Ode on Melancholy" was written by the British Romantic poet John Keats. It is one of the five odes Keats composed in 1819, which are considered to be among his best work. Essentially the poem is about how to deal—and how not to deal—with deep sadness.What is the main theme of the poem On the Grasshopper and Cricket? ›
According to the poet, nature offers love and joy and the human response should correspond to that fondness. Furthermore, the main theme in 'On the Grasshopper and Cricket' is nature and its eternal delight and its persistent presence.
The theme ,or message, Mullen portrayed in this poem can be separation or prejudice. Although the title does not directly refer to this, it does connect to how the author justifies her message. Mullen also uses ellipsis in her poem. The use of ellipsis helped develop the tone she was trying to portray.What is the theme of the poem on the grasshopper? ›
Answer: The theme of the poem is that nature is always happy. Nature is never sad. It is always singing through the medium like grasshopper and cricket since the grasshopper sings in summer and cricket in cold winter.What type of ode is Ode on Melancholy? ›
This is a Grecian ode because it has an inconsistent structure after the first two stanzas. No emotion is completely constant, hence neither is this poem. It is only in the last stanza that the CDECDE rhyme scheme in the latter half is complete.Which type of figurative language is used in Ode on Melancholy? ›
The figurative language used here, such as the simile 'like a weeping cloud'. This represents so poignantly what melancholy is like, but Keats does not seem all that sorrowful about melancholy 'falling Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud'.What is the mood of melancholy? ›
adjective. If you describe someone or something as melancholic, you mean that they are very sad.What type of poem is grasshopper? ›
The poem "On the Grasshopper and Cricket" by John Keats can be termed as a Petrarchan Sonnet. The poem is structurally similar to a sonnet because it has 14 lines. It can be divided into an octet and a sestet. It is written in iambic pentameter.What were the insecurities of the poet in ode to the grasshopper? ›
The poet feels intimidated by the presence of being of the grasshopper. Being of the grasshopper is examined in the topology of language as the presence of existence of consciousness negating the being of the grasshopper in impersonal language. For example, 'you mind your business and I will mind my own'.What causes silence? ›
Silence is the absence of ambient audible sound, the emission of sounds of such low intensity that they do not draw attention to themselves, or the state of having ceased to produce sounds; this latter sense can be extended to apply to the cessation or absence of any form of communication, whether through speech or ...What type of poem is elliptical? ›
Elliptical poetry is poetry that is oblique and without prosaic information or a logical sequence of meaning. The following definition of the term elliptical poetry is reprinted from A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch.Why do poets use end stopped lines? ›
End-stops allow the reader to pause at each line break, which makes them ideal for highly structured poems with regular rhythm and rhyme schemes.
Through this phrase, the poet refers to a person whose life is busy mostly with necessities meant only for the body. Hence, they don't have enough time to work on their mind. The poet says they are so busy that they don't even have the time to simply “stand” and “stare” at the simple things of nature.What is the attitude of the grasshopper? ›
The Grasshopper is more selfish than the Ant. The Ant refuses to help others, however, the Grasshopper is more compassionate. The Grasshopper is more focused on enjoying the present, while the Ant prepares for the future.What is grasshopper quote? ›
“The heaven of a grasshopper is the wheat field; the heaven of man is the same place, the very earth itself where we get our food and build our happiness!”Is knee-high to a grasshopper a metaphor? ›
To be knee-high to a grasshopper means to be very short or very young. Though the second meaning is heard more commonly. The idiom literally means to reach a grasshopper's knee. It is usually used in reference to a time long ago when someone was younger/littler than the present.