Ode on Melancholy: Stanza 1 - Summary

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No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul


      No, no! go.....anguish of the soul. In this stanza, Keats advises the true seeker of melancholy what he shouldn't achieve real and solid melancholy. Addressing him, the poet says: “Do not drown your senses in total forgetfulness, if you want to feel the full force of melancholy. By doing so, your soul will become dead and you will not feel any kind of anguish or pain. As the spirits of dead persons after drinking the water of the river Lethe (river of forgetfulness) in the lower world forget everything about the past, so by deadening your soul with liberal doses of sadness, you will become totally forgetful of the tender pain of melancholy. If you want to taste true melancholy, you should not extract for drinking the juice of the poisonous plant, wolf’s bane or aconite, the roots of which go deep down into the earth and hold it fast. Nor should you bind your pale and sickly forehead with the poisonous plant, night-shade or belladonna which, is associated with gloom and sorrow. Though the bright red berries of nightshade are as deadly as the red grapes of prospering, the maiden goddess, who was carried of from Sicily by Pluto, the god of the lower world; yet they will not give you the actual idea of melancholy. Again, if you want to feel the full force of true melancholy, you should not make a rosary (a string of beads) with the berries of the yew tree, the church-yard yew tree which is associated with death and mourning. If you go on counting your past griefs and sorrows on this rosary, you can never know what melancholy really is. In other words, if you give your mind entirely to painful thoughts of death and sorrow, you cannot hope to become melancholy. Nor should you allow the ominous insects, the death-watch beetle and the death’s moth head, which are associated with death and mourning, to represent your sad and depressed soul. In other words, you should not indulge in the thoughts of death and mourning in order to become melancholy. Nor should you make the soft feathered owl, the ominous bird of darkness and melancholy, an inspirer of your deep sorrows which are a mystery to others. In simple words, you should not invite the owl with its gloomy and sad association to help you in the practice of rites especially sacred to your sorrows. Or, you should not deepen your gloom and melancholy by making a special mystery of them. In short, if you associate yourself with shades, i.e. with the objects of gloom and despair mentioned above, with the vegetable worlds, and with pain, death and deeper tragedies of life, your soul will be drowned in melancholy. As such, its forces and vigor will be extinguished and you will be extinguished and you will not be able to know what melancholy truly is.”

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