Just Act Out The Dark Side Of Your Life To See The Light Of Good
The theme of Keats' Ode on Melancholy is the fragility and impermanence of Beauty and Joy. The Melancholy is the subtlest in sweetness of thought and feeling of Keats' odes.
The poem opens with a recital of Traditional symbols of melancholy and death - Lethe, various narcotic and poisonous herbs, the death-watch beetle, the death's head moth, the owl - which the truly melancholy mind is urged to shun. Their rejection is urged because
"For shade to shade will come too drowsily
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul."
The Traditional macabre symbols, if drowsily sought or indulged, would, by dulling the senses into oblivion, smother the wakeful anguish of the soul, and this should not be allowed to happen.
Keats now turns from the negative to a truly positive treatment of melancholy. The "wakeful anguish" must be preserved and good extracted from it. Keats proposes that when a sudden fit of melancholy comes,
"Then glut thy sorrow on a moving rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt-sand wave
Or on the wealth of global peonies,"
Or, on the peerless eyes of a raving mistress. In other words, the melancholy has to be consciously nourished and enriched by contemplation of objects of the richest beauty, like the rose, the rainbow and the rest. This treatment will relate the melancholy in a positive way to Beauty - which Keats regards as an accompaniment of melancholy. The proper course is to make the most of any melancholy mood by recognizing it as a part of life.
The conclusion is clinched in the final stanza which associates melancholy in personified terms with Beauty, Joy and even Pleasure itself. Since all these sensations, like melancholy itself, partake of decay and death, Melancholy should be recognized as related to them. Accordingly, Delight and Melancholy are to be worshipped as one. But this idea can be appreciated only by one who has had an almost physical experience of Joy, which Keats conveys in a sensuous image of an epicure relishing luscious grapes crushed against his lusty yet selective palate. Such a person, Keats concludes -
. . . shall taste the sadness of thy might
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
Melancholy's "cloudy" triumph suggests either dim obscurity or tragedy.
As the critic Robert Gittings remarks, Keats here leaves us with a positive conclusion that an acceptance and acting-out of the dark side of life is itself a way of life, perhaps the only way.
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