Ode to Apollo: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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      Ode to Apollo is one of the conventional odes attempted by Keats at the age of twenty. As a young poet, he pays his tribute to Apollo the god of music and poetry. He also offers his homage to the well-known Greek, Italian and English poets who have contributed a lot to the enrichment of poetry and whose poetry is known for its excellence, beauty and craftsmanship. There is hardly any originality in the poem. Perhaps it was written under the influence of Dryden and Gray as it contains classical allusions and artificial conceits. There is, however, a realization by the poet that the great masters of English poetry like Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton have added both to the understanding of human passions and the enrichment of versification.

Summary

      Keats believes that Apollo, the god of light, music and poetry sits in a golden palace in the Western Isles. In the main hall, he listens to the music of some of the great poets as they play on their lyres. First and foremost, Homer sets the ball rolling with his songs of the Trojan War and heroism of the Trojans (in the Illiad). Though he was blind, he was blessed with eye-sight in heaven. The palace of Apollo shines fiery-red when Homer chants his war song. The next poet is Virgil who sings of the passion of Dido, queen of Carthage, for Aeneas and her suicide when her lover deserted her (in the Aeneid). The third poet is Milton whose thunderous music echoes the war in Heaven and Adam’s fall (Paradise Lost). It appears that Keats does not place the poets in the chronological order, because Milton should have come after Spenser and Shakespeare, and not before. The fourth poet is Shakespeare. As he plays on the lyre, the passions seem to vibrate on the strings and Brit up similar emotions among the audience. The next poet who plays is Spenser. Firstly, he plays martial tunes singing of the exploits of knights and then he produces a gentle music which echoes female virtue and chastity (The Faerie Queene). His music slowly fades away. Then comes Tasso the famous Italian poet who sings of devotion and gallantry (Jerusalem Delivered).

      He produces feelings of pity and love among his listeners. Finally, Apollo joins the nine Muses and the mortals are enchanted with his music. Apollo is indeed the source of inspiration for all the poets of the world. The nine Muses of the different branches of knowledge include history, comedy, tragedy, music and dancing.

Style

      The poem contains eight stanzas of six lines each lit the aba bcc pattern. The poem reveals Keats’s admiration of the master of epic and lyric poetry. He is well acquainted with the works of Greek and Italian poets. His references to the songs of Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey to the music of Virgil in Aeneid and the songs of Tasso in Jerusalem Delivered show that he values epic and lyrical poetry. His appreciation of Milton’s grand style, Spenser’s pastoral poetry and Shakespeare’s plays shows the width of his interests and his love of Hellenism. Keats loved the spirit of Hellenism which he found in literature and sculpture. Though he did not know the Greek language, he read Greek literature in English translations. Moreover, he has the Greek strain within himself. Like the Greeks, he is a lover of beauty and to him the expression of beauty is the ideal of art. Secondly, he is Greek in personifying the powers of nature. Keats’s love of music, beauty and lyricism is evident in this poem.

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