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Analysis of Ode on Melancholy by John Keats

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  1. Analysis of the structure
  2. Explicitation of the Greek mythology references
  3. Lexical field of death and negatively-connoted words and sounds
  4. Description of physical conditions that indirectly refer to underlying emotional conditions
  5. Keat's philosophy : melancholy should be experienced fully to experience joy fully

Ode on Melancholy is an example of a Pindaric ode, i.e., it is composed in iambic pentameter (we have some occasional spondees too), while the rhyme scheme is a b a b c d e c d e for the first two stanzas and a b a b c d e d c e for the third and last one. We have three stanzas, the first one called the strophe, the second ? the antistrophe and the third ? epode. We also have eight run-on lines and two hemistichs ( two times a caesura in the middle of a line ) but they are in the last stanza of the poem. Normally, Pindaric ode is used in less personal works but here, apparently, we have an exception.

What immediately attracts the attention of the reader is the fact that the first stanza contains words of Latin origin, refering to mythology : ?Lethe?, which is the river of oblivion and suggests death (river in the underworld of Hades in which souls about to be reborn bathed to forget their past lives. Hence, it is the river of forgetfulness); ?Proserpine?, who is the goddess of the underworld and in Greek mythology symbolizes the cycle of the seasons and more broad passage of time; ?Psyche?, who often represents the human soul.

[...] This theme of death is recurrent in Keats and could be partially explained by the fact that he saw his mother and brother die while he was still a lad. He himself suffered from consumption and wrote many of his poems with the painful knowledge that he would die young. But now let us come back to the poem. The use of words charged with negative meaning is strongly reinforced by the frequent use of many other negative forms. In five out of ten lines we have the use of The ode itself begins with a powerful and in the very first line we have four negative forms: no! [...]


[...] All references to notions are capitalized ?Melancholy?, and ?Pleasure? - because they are so intense and as they become an ideal to be attained. The basic philosophy of the ode is founded on the reasoning that beauty and joy are transient and that they have to be experienced fully while it lasts. This is further supported by the idea that melancholy and pain are also transient and that in order to fully enjoy beauty and joy, one has to fully experience them too. Life, then, must be vigorous and intense. Every human being must live it as if today was his last, [...]

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