Ode to Maia: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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      This poem was likely inspired by Barnabe Barnes’s Ode to Maia. Keats wrote the following lines to his friend Reynold, about his ode: “It is impossible to know how far knowledge will console us for the death of a friend and the ill that flesh is heir to with respect to the affections and poetry. You must know by a sympathy my thoughts that way, and these few lines will be but a ratification. I wrote them on May-day and intend to finish the Ode all in good time.” This ode written on May-day 1818 is just a fragment which Keats hoped to complete at some future date. Maia is connected with the spring season because she represents Placiades which is visible during the spring season. The month of “May” perhaps denies its name from Maia. The central idea of the poem is that Keats wants to honor Maia with an Ode and wishes a small and select audience of his own countrymen.


      According to Greek mythology, Maia is the daughter of Atlas and her love with Zeus resulted in the birth of Hermes Keats wishes to honor her like the ancient poets of Greece and Rome because she is inspirer of poets and an embodiment of youthfulness and joy Keats wants a small group of listeners—fit but few. These will include the flowers, the sky, the ancient gods and a few of his- country-men. He does not want immortality, he has got to learn a good deal. He is content with singing the beauty and joy of the quiet primrose and the simple worship of a day.

Critical Analysis

      Though this is a fragmentary poem of fourteen lines, which was never completed, it has evoked a lot of comments from many critics. In this connection, Douglas Bush writes: “The initial literary impulse for the Ode to Maia may have come from Bernabe Barnes’s Ode, Lovely Maya but Keats is not writing here like an Elizabethan or like his earlier self for a mere lush and uneven handling of a similar theme one might compare the dedication of the 1817 volume. Instead of the exuberant catalog of nature and myth and the Wordsworthian symbolism of the Hymn to Pan, the Ode to Maia is content with the quiet primrose and the simple worship of a day. The poem is as Greek in its sober simplicity of expression as it is un-Greek in its pure romantic nostalgia. And it takes its place among Keats’s affirmation on the side of the senses,”

      There is no doubt that the poet is romantic in substance. Keats wants to capture the inspiration of ancient classical poets. He refers to Baiae, Sicily and ancient Greece. He wants to borrow their vigor and power and yet strangely enough, he wishes to be contented with the simple worship of a day. In fact there are two strands in the poem—Greek or Hellenic spirit, and, the beauty of Nature. In this connection Deselin Court writes: ‘It blends with subtle art two sources of the poet’s happiest inspiration-the spirit of Greece as he understood it and the peaceful beauty of Nature. And as is often the case, the whole essence of the poem seems to pass ’into the exquisite use of the commonest words. The epithet old, is rarely used by Keats without some sense of yearning after the beauty and the glory of primeval life.” Keats could not complete this poem for an obvious reason—lack of information. Sidney Colin writes:

      "Considering how meager are the hints antiquity has left us concerning Maia, and hence how little material for development the theme seems to offer—considering these things, perhaps it is as will that Keats, despite his promise to finish it all in good time, should have tantalized posterity by breaking of this beautiful thing where he did." This poem is a piece of curiosity remarkable for its humility. There is Hellenic spirit and blending of art with nature.

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