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AESTHETIC PATTERN IN KEATS'S ODES HERBERT MARSHALL lVlcLuHAN LESS than justice has been done to the great odes of Keats since they lend themselves so easily to the uses of his biograp~~rs., They have been so much quoted for casual illumination of his moods "that few people are able to think of them as anything but self:.. expression. The highly successful labours of the editors and biographers,' which no careful reader will ignore, have impressively established the fact that there is scarcely a mood or impression or image in the great odes which cannot be paralleled again and again in the least interesting of Keats's poems. There has, however , been only a small effort to poirit the hce tast.ed its joy, we are offered an escape, not through drugs or wine, "But on the viewless wings of Poesy.': The sudden introduction of the life of "fancy" in vinous juxtaposition with "Bacchus and· his pards" is significant, and the significance is underlined in the last stanza. of the ode. It is of a piece with the vigorous dramatic movement of the poem that Keats no sooner indicates an escape through the life of ~rt than he embodies the concept in the warm and vivid life of "tender 1S the night;' and the following two lines. The insubs ~antiability of the faery pageant, its inadequacy as a resource, is suggested by its brief evocation and the sudden relapse into ('actuality" : But here there is no light, Save whatjrom heaven is with the breezes blown. The lush delicacy of «tender is tpe night" is a natural transition from the hectic flight of the first four lines of the stanza. The sudden change of tone is perfectly adjusted by its appearing to be an achieved desire, the term of the movement of flight. Similarly, "But here there is no light," with its light stress on "here," is both a contrast with the world of moonlit fancy and a faint echo of ((Here, where men sit and hear each other groan." But that grim theme- now begins to merge with «verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways." AESTHETIC PATTERN IN KEATS'S ODES V I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet Wherewith the seasonable month endows The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; Fastfading violets cover'd up in leaves; And'mid-May's eldest child, The coming musk-rose,jull of dewy wine', The murmurous haunt ofjlies on summer eves. 173 It is with this gesture of ineffable ease and delicacy that Keats begins the transmutation of the previous themes of profound revulsion from, and ardent pursuit of, life. The fifth stanza vninterruptedly 'expands a single moment of "negative capability." After the'first two movements from extreme to extreme this stanza is without any strain or striving. The poet does not woo death, life, or art, hut is, in a spirit-of-humility,- woned-by-n-ature-.-H1----cannot see ... but guess," perfectly con'veys the abeyance and passivity of sensual life. The phrase "embalmed darkness" reinforces this mode of experience (perfectly linking it with the different but related "drowsy numbness" of the first stanza) ,by indicating the passivity of both human and sub-human womb-life. After violent waywardness the poet, as it were, plants himself in , the spring-time e~rth, coming to a profound acceptance and understanding of nature. THis is not stated, but is realized dramatically. The stanza unfolds in accordance with the "seasonable month" I (which, we shall see, is the technical mode of the Ode to Autumn), following the order of developing life,'and at the same time paralleling 'the maturing wisdom of the pO,et. This is the dramatic centre of the poem, and it clearly constitutes an' equilibrium born .of previous conflicts. It is as inevitably right as it is unexpected. VI Darkling I listen; and,for many a time I have been haif in loue with easeful Death, Call'd him soft na1nes in many a mused rhyme, , To take into the air my quiet breath; Now...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 167-179
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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