Themes in Ode on Melancholy

Themes Examples in Ode on Melancholy:

Ode on Melancholy 5

"And be among her cloudy trophies hung...."   (Ode on Melancholy)

The poem’s final line suggests that those who can fully access both sorrow and joy will “be among her cloudy trophies hung.” The image of the “cloudy trophies” indicates fame and immortality, which are perhaps granted to those sensitive souls (such as Keats) attuned to the deep, bittersweet melancholy of the human condition.

"Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;..."   (Ode on Melancholy)

This is an elaborate but effective metaphor. The only people capable of experiencing melancholy are also those who “Can burst Joy’s grape,” the grape here serving as a reference to the revelrous joys of wine. More simply stated, those who feel joy most intensely also feel melancholy, for the two emotions are inseparable. As Keats’s fellow Romantic poet William Blake put it, “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.” This counterintuitive notion is the poem’s key theme.

"Turning to Poison while the bee-mouth sips:..."   (Ode on Melancholy)

Once again, we see the role melancholy plays in life’s joyful experiences. The image here balances poison with honey, that which the “bee-mouth sips.” This is a striking line in that it evokes one of the sweetest tastes in the world, as well as the sour taste of deadly poison. The key idea is that the moments of greatest delight contain in them the bittersweet knowledge of death.

"She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die; And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu;..."   (Ode on Melancholy)

According to Keats, another condition of melancholy is an appreciation of mortality. Touching on the theme of [“Ode on a Grecian Urn”] (https://www.owleyes.org/text/ode-grecian-urn), the speaker laments the transient nature of beauty and joy. One of Keats’s central themes is that the sweetest things in life must be met with melancholy because they do not last. Keats finally makes his personification of melancholy explicit in the phrase “She dwells with Beauty.”

"Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, Or on the wealth of globed peonies;..."   (Ode on Melancholy)

In the second stanza, the speaker begins to build a case for the uses of melancholy. As the speaker reveals, melancholy attunes us to the beauty of the world and provides poetic inspiration. This series of images, from the “morning rose” to the “salt sand-wave” and “peonies,” illustrates the inherent beauty of the natural world. These lines also show a poetic mind at work, for it is the poet who finds the “rainbow” in the salt sand-wave and sees the peonies as “globed.” Keats’s argument, then, is that melancholy serves as a gateway to the appreciation of beauty and to creative inspiration.