Eternal Beauty & Awareness of Pain and Joy in Keats Odes

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Keats’s conflicts

      The odes of Keats are highly subjective and personal in character. Incidentally the personal experiences of Keats’s life happened to contain various conflicts, struggles and tensions. The fundamental conflict was on the choice between the real world and the ideal world which he created by his imagination. The other points of conflict are art and life, pleasure and pain, happiness and melancholy and the transient and the eternal. Most of the odes of Keats are a manifestation of these inner conflicts of his mind.

Conflicts of pains and pleasures

      The Ode to a Nightingale is a vivid portrayal of the drama of pulls and strains, taking place in Keats’s mind. On the one hand, like Shelley, he is bleeding after having a fall on the thorns of life. “The fever, and the fret” of the world of Man are making him feel uneasy. His dissatisfaction with the world of reality is clearly reflected in what he has got to say about it:

“Where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few.”
“Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies,
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow”.

      Indirect contrast to this is the world of the Nightingale who, “Among the leaves has never known” what it is to be sad and happy. The nightingale is singing the happy and melodious songs of summer “in full-throated ease”. She is an immortal bird as compared to man who is ever prone to death. It is here that the real drama takes place. The poet, already quite tired of the worries of the real world, wants to fly away to the world of the Nightingale “on the viewless Wings of Poesy.” He wants to make an escape to the care-free surroundings of the Nightingale, but the drama does not end with the escape. It touches the height of climax with the sound of a single word, and that word is “forlorn!” the very word is like a bell.

      “To toll me back from thee to my sole self.” With this the poet is back on the hard crust of earth. He accepts the world to his fellow beings with all its pains and worries. In nutshell, he does not allow the deceiving elf, and fancy to cheat him.

      The ode presents a living picture of Keats's state of mind shall, therefore; be in fitness of things to say that the ode takes birth from the inner conflicts of Keats’s mind.

      Tussle between Beauty of Art aud Life
The Ode on a Grecian Urn is very much in the fashion and spirit of the Ode to a Nightingale. Both are products of the fluctuations taking place in the mind of Keats. Here the conflict revolves around the temporal and the eternal. The urn is a permanent piece of art. It has stood the test of time. So much so, it has immortalized even those objects that have been carved upon it, the piper, the lover the trees. The urn makes Keats all the more acutely aware of man’s susceptibility to death. He adores the urn because of its infallibility to death, but the adoration does not continue for long. It is not an end in itself, rather it is a means toward the final realization that the world of art, even though immortal, cannot provide a permanent refuge to Man. Man must come back to the world of reality after a brief stay in the world of imagination. The poet realizes that the urn does not have the organism of life. It is a speechless “Silent form”. Towards the closing stanza of the poem he calls it a “cold Pastoral”. The lover on the urn, though immortal cannot experience the warmth and intensity of love that one enjoys in real life. The lover on the urn will always remain a speechless entity. He is immortal but at the same time he is dead. There is an element of the tedious about his permanence. His love is as dead as machine whereas love in real life is organic. With this realization with him the poet again sets a final compromise with the world of reality.

Beauty and joy as a source of pain

      The Ode on Melancholy is yet another poem depicting two different situations of Keats’s state of mind. For him sad and ugly things like the night shade, the beetle and death-moth are nox an abode of Melancholy. On the other hand, Melancholy

“Dwells with Beauty-Beauty that must die;
And joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Biding adieu”

      It is a strange paradox, but at the same time, neatly resolved What the poet wants to convey is that the joys of life in fact make man melancholic because joy, by its very nature is something short lived, fleeting and something that will soon be dead. So, joys in the long run are a cause of human sorrow. The ode presents, in a very successful manner, the interaction of the emotions of joy and pain. It becomes more clearly manifest in the following words from the Ode,

“In the very temple of Delight,
Veiled Melancholy has her sovereign shrine”.

      This study of Keats’s odes reveals that they emerge out of his inner conflicts and at the same time they are an authentic and living picture of how the conflicts are born, how they grow and above all how they are finally resolved.

University Questions

‘‘The sharp contrast between the desire for beauty and awareness of pain makes Keats’s Odes dramatic.” Discuss.
“Keats’s constant endeavour in the Odes is to escape to a world of eternal beauty and joy but in this endeavour be does not always succeed”. Discuss.

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