Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Remembering English Poets- Keats and Shelley

John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley both died too young: Keats by tuberculosis and Shelley by drowning. And though I don't read them regularly, both poets have some epic moments that can cause anyone to stop and appreciate the powerful ability to capture deep concepts in poetic forms.

These poets in short verse create powerful images of thought and meaning.

Keats genius elevated to special heights during 1819 in a short a period where he wrote six "Ode" poems. Five of these he penned in the spring and the last one that autumn.

Ode on a Grecian Urn
Ode on Indolence
Ode on Melancholy
Ode to a Nightingale
Ode to Psyche
OdeTo Autumn

I wish I had time to dissect each one, but I will mention a few lines and thoughts.

Ode to a Grecian Urn has a powerful message: the inevitability of change yet the picture captured on the Urn has resisted any change for years and years. There is an irony of the two lovers on the Urn who cannot kiss, but also they never grow old!

‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’.
A 'romantic' theme of the power of imagination.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
All truth is God's truth and there is a deep beauty in God's nature

Ode on Indolence is a witty exploration of laziness and God's provision for His creatures, with a sharp allusion to the 'lilies of the field". Is idleness a virtue or vice? A waste of time or rest?

So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise            (The ghosts are: Love, Ambition, and Poetry)
My head cool-bedded in the flowery grass;
For I would not be dieted with praise,
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!
Fade softly from my eyes, and be once more
In masque-like figures on the dreamy urn;
Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
And for the day faint visions there is store;
Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and never more return!

Ode on Melancholy is haunting. How many young school age students have fled the poem based on the title! But it is a spell binding mystical and ironic view of grief and suffering. Is there a hidden joy when one embraces grief?

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies …            
peonies are flowers

Ode to a Nightingale is a fanciful exploration of responses to the poet as hear hears (or does he?) a nightingale sing in the dark moments of the early morning.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
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!

Ode to Psyche is my least favorite of the 'Odes', partly because I really don't like mythology and partly because it doesn't explore much beyond does man serve god's made in their own image or desire to be worshipped as gods.

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind …

Ode To Autumn is also clever and deep. Yes, autumn is frequently understood as an early harbinger to death. Burt Keats seems to have an understanding of the depth of this reality that doesn't fit his age.

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-eves run

Now to Shelly.... Sad story... he was bullied, wayward, staunch atheist. But I have always been captivated by his wonderful work: Ozymandias


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Ozymandius is the great Ramses of Egypt and this poem is a veiled reference to some artifacts that were being delivered to the British Natural History museum. a 14 line sonnet, there is elite narrative and meaning.

The obvious message is that the pride of man always falls to the forces of time and nature in unrelenting entropy.

But I often focus on the sculptor, the one who captured the essence of the king.

I love the idea of how he carved the passions he saw in the real man and 'stamped' it on a lifeless thing.

Did he capture the real person or is this his judgement on the leader?
Of course the pedestal was approved no doubt!
I also love the phrase, antique land

No matter how powerful or ruthless, he eventually crumbles to the sand and known no longer!

And that life was a 'colossal wreck'!

What an image!

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