Motifs & Theme of John Keats Odes

Also Read

      Keats certainly did not compose the great Odes as parts of a composite whole or comprehensive programme. Each Ode can and does have a separate entity. However, on reading all of them, one cannot escape noticing the ideas and feelings which are common to them and become a kind of link between them. Nor can one ignore a subtle development from one to the next, till with the final Ode To Autumn, we get a full view of Keats’s attitude to life.

      The motifs which recur in the Odes are joy and suffering, transience and permanence, and the feeling that happiness, at its very height, must inevitably turn into something else. Each Ode deals with the dilemma of joy which is associated with “Beauty that must die.’’ Keats all through his life was haunted by the issue of the close affinity between joy and suffering, pleasure and pain.

      In the Ode to Psyche, he seems to have chosen Psyche because she stands for the human soul, curious about the unknown, accustomed to suffering and loss. In the Ode to a Nightingale Keats is obviously concerned with the ideas of death and immortality, impermanence and permanence, the harsh reality of human suffering and the blithe happiness of the nightingale’s song. The poet, however, returns to harsh reality, refusing or being unable to be anesthetized in a luxurious escape. As yet, Keats has not reached a satisfying conception of permanence, a quest which concerned him as a poet.

      In the Ode on a Grec an Urn once again the issue is of coming to terms with the facts of age, sickness, grief, and the sharp awareness that natural beauty is exquisite but also painfully transient. If the nightingale offered one attractive but unsatisfying refuge, art is here seen as something a little better — more genuinely and fruitfully immortal. But for all that he says about the unrewarding nature of “breathing human passion”, Keats does not really wish to turn his back on what is human, however unsatisfactory it may be. The Urn is, after all, “Cold Pastoral.” It lacks the warmth of life.

      The Ode on Melancholy and To Autumn come to terms with these issues. These pains and sorrows have to be accepted in the context of a wider system. The Odes, we realize, present Keats’s attitude to life—to experience all in the attitude of the Negative Capability, to see the impermanence of the individual’s life as part of a much wider permanence of the cycle of Eternal life.

University Questions

What are the recurrent themes and motifs in Keats's five famous Odes? Elucidate with illustrations.
“While the odes were not composed as parts of any coherent programme, they are naturally linked together as variations on some central ideas and questionings which had long been in Keats’s mind.” Discuss.
In Keats’s Odes, we are told, he was concerned with some great issues of life and art. Mention some of the issues and show how Keats deals with them in the Odes.
Summarise the themes and ideas in Keats’s Odes and critically examine them as his poetic testament.
“Bound together by a similar train of thought and unity of feeling, the Odes sum up Keats’s attitude to life.” Discuss.

Previous Post Next Post