Ode to Poets: (Birds of Passion and of Mirth) - Summary

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      Ode to Poets, published in 1817 and addressed specially to the brother poets Beaumont and Fletcher, tells us that poets enjoy a double immortality: their souls in heaven experience the highest felicities, while the souls they leave behind them on earth, i.e., in their books, teach us wisdom.


      The souls of the poets (like Beaumont and Fletcher) live at the lame time in two different regions, the earth and the heaven. On earth they live on through their books, in heaven they enjoy perfect happiness. Their souls in heaven hold communion with the Sun and the Moon. Their pleasure in heaven lies in listening to the music of wondrous fountains, the voice of orators and poets, the whisperings of heavenly trees, and in enjoying the conversations of one another, as they sit ease fully on ths lawns of Elysium, where the fawns, of Diana graze, where the daisies are as sweet-scented as roes, where the nightingale sings songs of divine truth full of melodious philosophic teaching, revealing the secrets of heaven Their souls speaking through the books they have left on earth teach us the way to find them in heaven where they are enjoying themselves. These books tell us of the transitoriness of life, of its sorrows and joys, of its passions and spites, and also of what strengthens or weakens us.

The Charm of the Poem

      The poem is an instance of the strong imagination and romantic idealism of the poet, who, however, always delights in creating concrete images that pulsate with life. Here is an illustration of the remark of Keats himself that “the great end of Poesy is that it should be a friend to soothe the cares and lift the thoughts of Man”. He creates for us a fine picture of the Elysian life, which, described in the classical manner, has yet the tinge and glow of romantic assoda, dons. Keats shows himself specially skilful in the matter of forming suggestive compounds, such as 'double-lived', 'rose scented' etc. Being full of the spirit of the age and rebelling against the dull drawing room verses of the classical school, it is but natural that the poet should turn in joy and happy retrospect to the great masters of the Elizabethan age. The influence of Milton’s L'Allegro on the young poet is also palpable. L'Allegro supplied the stimulus and suggested the form, and even perhaps awake the aspiration to reveal the poet’s delight in his visions, not of this world as L'Allegro does, but of the spiritual world”. The charm of the poem depends largely on the free, apparently careless, but in reality consummately skillful, variation of the simple meter.

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

Lines 1—4

      Bards of Passion.....regions new. In these opening lines, Keats addresses the English poets, especially Beaumont and Fletcher, who were particularly renowned as poets of love and of humor, and asks them whether unlike the ordinary men and poets, they have double souls, one soul living on earth and the other in heaven, their new dwelling place after their mundane existence is over. The poets have shuffled off their mortal coils and have gone to heaven, that undiscovered land newly reached by them. The poet wonders whether they actually possess double existence.

Lines 5—22

      Yes and those of heaves a commitment.....and its mysteries. In these lines, Keats asserts that the bards of Passion and of Mirth, particularly Beaumont and Fletcher, must have double souls and double abodes. One of the souls abides in heaven, gazing at the heavenly beauties, holding intercourse with the spheres of the sub, the moon and other planets, listening to the rustling sound of the trees of paradise or enjoying the calm bliss of lying on the grassy plots there, where only the heavenly deer come to graze. Their heavens-dwelling souls enjoy the lovely lawns where daisies and roses that possess an extraordinary fragrance not to be found in the earthly roses bloom eternally. Their souls abide, where the nightingale untie the light-winged ones of the earth; does not sing any trite and meaningless tune in ecstatic trances, but sings songs bearing the greatest wisdom, unfolding the mysteries of heaven. The idea is the soul of man abiding in heaven, strikes as a new fancy to western thought, though it is an accepted belief to the philosophical and speculative spirit of Indian thought.

Lines 23—24

      Thus ye live.....live again. In these lines Keats declares that the poets of Passion and of Mirth (particularly Beaumont and
Fletcher) have double life. They live in heaven after their mortal demise, and at the same time they live on earth, as they have become immortal on earth by virtue of their poetry and literary work embodying their wisdom, imagination and expression. Thus they have simultaneously a double life.

Lines 25—28

      And the soul's ye.....cloying. In these lines Keats says that the readers inspired by the poetical works of the bards try to follow the exalting and ennobling ideals propagated by these poets. They thus realize that these immortal poets have been dwelling in bliss permanently in paradise. It is only the great bards that can attain that blissful seat in heaven, and not every verse-maker, just as the virtuous souls only can attain to that eminence. In heaven, these bards do not need any sleep or rest as they enjoy eternal and transcendental joy there. Nor do they feel any disgust or satiety in the perpetual bliss in which they happen to be in heaven.

Lines 29—34

      Here, yow earth-born.....and what maim. In these lines, Keats says that the literary works of the bards who have gone to Heaven teach their readers on earth great lessons of human life. They reveal the various kinds of sorrows and delight, of success and failure, the passion and malice, the achievements as well as discomfiture of the human beings. They further teach us that there are others who are noble and who enthuse and inspire us to follow the path of virtue and even of some others who exercise a baneful influence on human beings.

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