The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ode to Psyche,” made up of sixty-seven lines, is divided into four stanzas of varying lengths. Although iambic pentameter is the dominant meter of the poem, John Keats often includes lines of iambic trimeter as well. The rhyme scheme is generally in a quatrain form of abab, but rhyming couplets are also employed. This technical complexity is typical of the ode form.

The poem begins with a direct address to the goddess Psyche, the personification of the human soul, and this one-sided conversation continues thoughout the poem. Keats himself is the first-person speaker, and “thou” is always the silent Psyche.

The first stanza, the longest in the poem, describes a vision or a dream Keats has of Psyche and her lover Eros lying “In deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof/ Of leaves and trembled blossoms,” beside a brook and “cool-rooted flowers”: The soul—Psyche—and the body—Eros—lie together in the heart of nature. Keats imagines them not in a passionate embrace, but in a static, restful pose, as if he has come upon them after their lovemaking has ended. In another poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” he witnesses an eternal moment before any physical activity takes place between lovers and examines the difficulty in this position: Although “the maiden” will always remain beautiful and the man’s love will last forever, the couple, frozen in the marble of the urn, will never share a kiss. “Ode to Psyche,” in...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Part of Keats’s reputation as a great poet derives from the appeal of his sensual, opulent phrasing. In “Ode to Psyche,” however, the lush language is perhaps over-shadowed by an atypical technique: Keats risks a monotonous sound in the poem by repeating certain key words. In order to make a point about the mind’s ability to compensate for loss, Keats first describes what has been lost and then, by using the same wording, replaces it completely. For example, in stanza 2, Keats despairs because Psyche never had a “virgin-choir to make delicious moan/ Upon the midnight hours.” In stanza 3, he offers himself to Psyche, saying “let me be thy choir, and make a moan/ Upon the midnight hours.” In stanza 2, he mourns because Psyche, in the classical world, had

No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet From chain-swung censer teeming;No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat Of pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.

In stanza 3, he once again speaks to Psyche, saying, let me be

Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet From swinged censer teeming;Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat Of pale-mouth’d prophet...

(The entire section is 532 words.)