woman on her side in the clouds crying and the tears fall on a rose that is losing its petals

Ode on Melancholy

by John Keats

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Please give a summary of "Ode on Melancholy" by Keats.

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This Ode is a poem consisting of three stanzas that is addressed to those people who are prone to fits of melancholy or depression, and seems to offer advice on how to cope with this state. What is notable is the positive way that Keats looks on melancholy, arguing that it is a state that should be prized because of the way we can learn from it. Therefore, rather than trying to escape from the melancholy through getting drunk or even ending our lives, we should enjoy and savour the emotion because of its divine characteristics.

The poem thus starts by telling the sufferer of melancholy to not seek escape through forgetfulness nor from poison or death. The first stanza is full of allusions to poison, death, dying and release, which are things we should avoid and shun when the mood of melancholy is upon us. Rather, the second stanza says, the melancholy man should "glut thy sorrow" on the beauty of nature, enjoying in the emotion and wallowing in it. This beauty of course cannot last, as the third stanza states, and thus meditating on the ephemeral nature of such beauty should heighten our appreciation of such pleasures whilst we have them:

She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips

Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,

Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips...

Melancholy and delight are actually inextricably intertwined, the poem argues, just as pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow are linked. The poem argues that they are inseparable, and the person who is truly aware of the beauty of nature is going to be more impacted by melancholy, as he who is open to the beauty of the world will be aware of its ephemeral nature, and thus subject to fits of melancholy, which in turn heighten his appreciation of beauty.

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