Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ecstasy and Disillusionment in Keats’ Odes

In his Odes, Keats makes a balance between the flux of human experience and the fixity of art. Keats’ poetic imagination changes easily from the living world to the world of dreams, from art to reality, and from a place of ecstasy to a place of disillusionment.

In the poem, "Ode to a Nightingale," written by John Keats, the speaker attempts to use a nightingale as a means of escaping the realities of human life. The speaker wants to share his experience of listening to the song of a Nightingale and its effect on his mind. The time is night, a moon lit night and place is a green woods. There is a path in the woods which ends somewhere in the woods. In this romantic place and time, a Nightingale is “pouring forth” its soul. The song of the Nightingale has a hypnotizing effect on his mind. It appears in the poem that Keats is tempted into the nightingale's world of beauty and perfection. The speaker cherishes a longing to join the world of the bird which he wants to do through at first, country celebrations and secondly through drinks. The speaker visualizes the happy, excited, and ecstatic frenzies which he wants to have in order to join the happy world of the Nightingale.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

The speaker also gives the description of his actual journey into the dim-sum woods. But as soon as the speaker in the deep woods he can’t see anything in embalmed darkness. He can only guess. In this imaginative forest he finds all the sensual enjoyment of his life. In the darkness of the forest he is surrounded by all the pleasures that he would think to have in the ideal world. There are flowers and fragrance every where and the summer season of woodland takes him to the extremity of joy of living.

The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

At this point the speaker becomes so excited that he wants to die.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy!

But all this ecstasy is followed disillusionment and the speaker comes down to reality. The world of imagination can shelter us for a short time, but it can not give us the solution of the reality of life.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.

Keats begins his “ode on a Grecian Urn” simply describing the various figures that are curved on its surfaces.

The first scene depicts musicians and lovers in a setting of rustic beauty. The speaker attempts to identify with the characters because to him they represent the timeless perfection only art can capture.

THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

The lovers will always love, though they will never consummate their desire. The musicians will always play beneath trees that will never lose their leaves.

The speaker ends the poem with "heart high-sorrowful." This is because the urn, while beautiful and seemingly eternal, is not life. The lovers, while forever young and happy in the chase, can never engage in the act of fertility that is the basis of life, and the tunes, while beautiful in the abstract, do not play to the "sensual ear" and are in fact "of no tone.

Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

In Ode to Autumn, the act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting Autumn is a season of ripe fruitfulness. It is the time of the ripening of grapes, apples, gourds, hazelnuts etc.

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

It is also the time when bees suck the sweetness from “later flowers” and “make honey.” Thus the autumn is pictured as bringing all the fruits of earth to maturity in readiness for harvesting. Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural creatures in the third. Keats experiences these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way.

But the music of autumn is ‘wailful’ and “mournful”. Also we have in the last stanza the “soft-dying day” after the passing of “hours and hours’. Thus the poem’s latent theme of mortality is symbolically dramatized by the passing course of the day. “And gathering swallows twitter in the skies” and “Birds habitually gather in flocks toward nightfall” means that the day is coming to a close. Also, birds gather particularly when they are preparing to fly southwards at the approach of winter.

While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

The sense of coming loss confronts the sorrow underlying the season’s creativity. When Autumn’s harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their “twined flowers” cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. This means that the season too is drawing to a close. A feeling of disillusionment is inevitable because of these suggestions.

From the above discussion we an say that the strain and stress of practical life makes him fly o the world of imagination for the time beings but he thinks of the short coming of the imagery world and finally accepts life as it is.