Ode on Melancholy
The central idea of the poem is that melancholy does not dwell in the sad and ugly things of life, not in death and the accompaniments of death, but in everything that is beautiful and joyful.
Melancholy – a deep feeling of sadness that lasts for a long time.
Line 1. Lethe – A river in the lower world, by drinking from which the spirits of the dead obtained forgetfulness.
Line 2. Wolf’s bane – The poisonous plant called aconite or monk’s hood. Bane = harm. The plant was anciently used as a bait for wolf traps.
Line 3. Twist – The action of turning or bending with your hand twisting is required for tearing up its root and for extracting its poisonous juice.
Line 4. Tight –rooted – Rooted firmly in the ground.
Line 5. Pale – A person having face or skin that is almost white.
Line 6. Nightshade – Yields red bright berries which is the most dangerous of British poisonous plants.
Line 7. Ruby grape – The “ruby grape” refers to the vivid red berries of the woody nightshade.
Line 8. Proserpine – Ceres’ daughter Proserpina was carried off by Pluto, King of the World of the dead. Ceres, who was the goddess of the fruits of the earth, mourned for Proserpina so much that all the harvests were spoiled and Jupiter sent Mercury to fetch Proserpina back. But Proserpina had eaten part of a pomegranate among the shades. As a result, even Mercury could not wholly free her and she spends four months of every year in the nether world and the rest with her mother.
Line 9. Rosary – The string of beads by which Roman Catholics count their prayers.
Line 10. Yew berries – Yew tree is a small tree with dark green leaves and small red berries, associated with graveyards.
Line 11. Beetle – Beetle lives in walls and woodwork generally, and by drumming with its head produces a melancholy sound of rapid tapping, believed by many to be a presage of the death of some person in the house.
Line 12. Death-moth – The death’s head hawk-moth. As it flies it produces a low, melancholy sound.
Line 13. Psyche – Psyche typifies the soul of man. It is generally represented as having the wings of a butterfly.
Line 14. Owl – a bird of ill omen.
Line 15. Downy – covered in soft hair or feathers.
Line 16. Drowsily – In a tired or almost sleepy manner. The feeling caused by death or calamities is of deadening grief, not melancholy. Keats here probably means conscious enjoyment of sorrowful feeling which is associated with everything that is beautiful and joyful.
Line 17. Anguish – Severe pain, mental suffering or unhappiness.
Line 18. Fit shall fall – the visitation of melancholy mood is sudden.
Line 19. a weeping cloud – pouring rain
Line 20. Foster – to encourage to develop.
Line 21. The droop-headed flowers all – All those flowers which hang down their heads.
Line 22. April Shroud – a shroud of April rain The word ‘shroud’ which means cover, lends a touch of mystery and sadness.
Line 23. Glut – indulge to the full
Line 24. Morning rose – A rose that blooms in the morning. The morning rose in spring season after a shower looks beautiful but its beauty will fade away.
Line 25. Rainbow of the salt sand-wave – The colours of the rainbow sometimes produced by the play of sunlight on wet sand left by a retreating wave. The rainbow occasionally appears after a shower and its charming reflection will remain for a short while.
Line 26. Wealth – wealth or abundance of flowers
Line 27. Globed – globe-shaped
Line 28. Globed peonies – plants with large globular red or white flowers.
Line 29. Rich – precious, pleasant In Ode to a Nightingale Keats longs for death and says: “Now more than ever seems it rich to die. To cease upon the midnight with no pain” (55-56) This use of rich is characteristic of Keats.
Line 30. Rich anger – a fervent emotion or passion of anger Keats is no doubt thinking of Fanny Brawne, whom he seems to have regarded as an incarnation of his ideal of beauty.
Line 31. Emprison – imprison, to hold her soft hand so that she cannot escape.
Line 32. Rave – Under the influence of some intense passion.
Line 33. Peerless eyes – eyes better than all others. The eyes acquire a lustre under the influence of a strong feeling.
Line 34. She – Melancholy is personified here
Line 35. Dwells – lives
Line 36. Beauty, Joy – are personified
Line 37. Bidding adieu – saying goodbye
Line 38. Aching – feeling a continuous dull pain.
Line 39. Aching pleasure nigh – Melancholy dwells close to pleasure whose intensity merges into pain. The heartaches when the pleasure is excessive. Satiety in pleasure causes a sad feeling. Pleasure thus turns almost to pain and a feeling of disillusionment.
Line 40. Nigh – nearly
Line 41. The bee – mouth sips – The bee is the emblem of the pleasure seeker. Man is compared to the bee which sucks honey with great avidity. So man also indulges in pleasure with zeal and gusto but the sweetness of joy turns to poison as soon as it is tasted.
Line 42. Temple of Delight – Delight is personified
Line 43. Veil’d Melancholy – The face of the goddess Melancholy is covered or hidden from dull, insensitive souls.
Line 44. Sovran – The older form of “sovereign”
Line 45. Sovran Shrine – The dominating shrine. Melancholy dominates delight. Her face is veiled and she reveals her face only to those who are capable of experiencing intense pleasure.
Q. Who can see the veil’d face of Melancholy?
Ans. The veiled face of Melancholy can be seen only by those who can appreciate the finest shades of melancholy and can equally appreciate the ecstasies of joy.
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