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John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 52
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).

XXII

THE ODES

The narrative poems, naturally, have the prestige of general popularity. The odes have a greater significance to connoisseurs and readers of severe taste. We shall discuss five of these odes. In them, better than elsewhere, Keats reveals the clarifying depths of his mind. Love ceases to be an exclusive cult. He passes from that central bower of romance, by labyrinthine ways, into a profound intellectual life.

The "Ode to Psyche" might be regarded as a poem of transition. It is a palinode of the early enthusiasm for the moon. It is a deification of love as one of the minor graces. Passion is tempered into tenderness. The music here is a sustained pianissimo. Psyche, with Cupid, lies asleep, "'mid hushed, cool-rooted flowers." She has had no worship as a goddess; no grove, no altar, no oracular priest. The "happy pieties" of antiquity brought her no share of homage. Like the prince who raised the neglected cinder maiden to royal honors, Keats creates a belated cult for this forgotten child of mythology. He becomes her priest, guarding "a rosy sanctuary" of the mind, with grove and temple and choir.

And there shall be for thee all soft delight
That shadowy thought can win;
A bright torch and a casement ope at night
To let the warm love in!


The ode "To Autumn" adds a figure to English folk-lore. Autumn, a rustic deity of husbandry, is seen as a toiler amid the mellow fruitfulness of grapes, apples and nuts. She haunts the granaries. She drowses in the half-reaped furrow. She watches beside a cider press "the last oozings hours by hours." Spring has its songs. Autumn has a music, too. And it is not mournful. The redbreast whistles. The full-grown lambs bleat from the hills. The lowering clouds transfuse the sunshine and "touch the stubble plains with rosy hue." Autumn is the goddess of rich fruition. Nature, in this ode, is painted in the purely objective manner. It smells of the soil. Imagination sheds no visionary light. The mood of the poet is relief and ease, full of the Chaucerian gladness of out-of-doors. "I never liked stubble fields so much as now—aye, better than the chilly green of spring," wrote Keats just after the composition of the ode.


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