John Keats has No Rivalry in the Sphere of Odes

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      Keats has written over a dozen odes, but all of them are not of equal merit. By common critical consent, the Odes On Melancholy. Nightingale, A Grecian Urn and Autumn - some critics add a fifth, The Ode to Psyche—are singled out as constituting a class apart, the varied glories of English poetry. Of these, the Ode to Psyche and the Ode on a Grecian Urn, are inspired by the ancient Greek world of imagination and the Ode on Melancholy and the Ode to a Nightingale, draw their inspiration from the poet’s own moods; while the Ode to Autumn records Keats’s quiet days at Winchester. Of these five odes, the two nearest to absolute perfection, to triumphant achievement and accomplishment of the very utmost beauty possible to words, are the Ode to Autumn and the Ode on a Grecian Urn; the most radiant, fervent and musical is the Ode to a Nightingale while the most pictorial and perhaps the tenderest in its ardor of passionate fancy, is the Ode on Melancholy. ‘‘Greater lyrical poetry”, says Swinburne, “the world may have seen than in these; lovelier it surely has never seen, nor ever can it possibly see”. The odes constitute the genuine credentials of the poet’s fame.

      They constitute also a symphony whose impression is immediate, final, perfect and permanent. They present an almost complete picture of Keats as a poet. Their most outstanding quality is extreme susceptibility to delight, close link with after-thought; pleasure with a pang, or that poignant sense of the ultimate, a sense at once delicious and distracting which embraces joy in sadness, and feasts upon the very sadness in sweetness. ‘‘The emotion that pervades them is the emotion of beauty intensely perceived, intensely loved, intensely questioned, of its own secret imperishable, eternal, yet always haunted by its own specter, the deadly throes of the human soul The favorite themes of Keats are set in his odes, in short and elaborate forms, constructed with harmonious skill, the sculptural grace of Greek attitudes, the nostalgia of the charming myths of Hellas, the changing seasons and the joys of the earth, the anguished yearning of the soul to find a beauty which endures; and with this Dionysian inspiration is fused the bittersweet voluptuousness enclosed an the impassioned meditation of death.”

      The most original character of the art of the Odes, says Cazamian, is its “density.” Each epithet is extraordinarily rich in suggestion; the long lingering of each word in a thought which lovingly enfolds it has loaded it with a whole spiritual crystallization. Each of the images opens up to our view a far-reaching perspective. In these poems of his maturity, the language of Keats scintillates with all the gems of speech, without their brilliance predominating over the conciseness and nervous exactness of the whole. The rhythms, handled by an artist who is alive to the power of music, are not so many new creations, as perfect adaptations to the supreme unity of an impression.

      The technical excellence of the Odes is as great as their poetical. Keats’s experiments with the sonnet form led to the perfection of a new stanzaic scheme which is at once firm and strongly articulated. This stanza consists of the first quatrain of the Shakespearean sonnet and the sestet of Petrarch This is the metrical pattern which is used in all the four great Odes that follow the Ode to Psyche, with a single variation in the Ode to a Nightingale in which one line of the Petrarchan sestet is shortened. “It is in its own sweetness, is used with most effect; it is here”, E. de Selincourt adds, “that Keats’s poetry surprises with a fine excess, yet never cloys with exaggeration; here that all the different elements the molded or inspired his genius are completely harmonized in that imaginative expression of his moods. The independence for which, from the beginning, he had striven, is gloriously attained”

      In his Odes, Keats is an enchanter; he is opulent, charming, fair of surprises, spontaneous in his melodious utterance, reaching the very acme of perfection possible to words. In his Odes, we have the best and finest of Keats which is also the best and finest in this poetry.

      Keats exhibits his distinct mastery of Negative Capability in his Odes. With a purely sad state of affairs in the world around him

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.

      Keats has the capacity not to feel jealous of the joys of the world of the Nightingale but also to become a partner in her eye and to be

Too happy in the happiness

      With an acute awareness of the short span of human life, the Keats does not find anything wanting in himself to throw laurels on the permanent existence of the Grecian Urn which has been named by him as the

Still, unravish’d bride of quietness.

      This capacity to do equal justice to feelings and emotions of an entirely different nature, ranging from pain to sorrow, from mortality and from imperfection to perfection is the secret of the success of Keats’s Odes.

      And finally a word about the style of Keats in his odes. Their style is as unifying a fact as their mood and theme. Every ode has the same perfection of language. Really Keats loads every rift with ore. He makes use of a beautiful vocabulary but beauty is not divorced from thought. Every word is as full of meaning as it is beautiful. The language is concise, exact and concentrated. There is not a word which we can afford to dispense with, without doing damage to the very structure of the poem. The right word has been used at the right place, and every word has been chiseled to the full. By virtue of these distinct features, the Odes of Rears carry weight with them.

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