O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrungBy sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
Even into thine own soft-conched ear:
Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see
The winged Psyche with awaken'd eyes?
I wander'd in a forest thoughtlessly,
And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,
Saw two fair creatures, couched side by side
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran
A brooklet, scarce espied:
Mid hush'd, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,
They lay calm-breathing, on the bedded grass;
Their arms embraced, and their pinions too;
Their lips touch'd not, but had not bade adieu,
As if disjoined by soft-handed slumber,
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:
The winged boy I knew;
But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?
His Psyche true!
O latest born and loveliest vision far
Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy!
Fairer than Phoebe's sapphire-region'd star,
Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;
Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,
Nor altar heap'd with flowers;
Nor virgin-choir to make delicious moan
Upon the midnight hours;
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.
O brightest! though too late for antique vows,
Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,
When holy were the haunted forest boughs,
Holy the air, the water, and the fire;
Yet even in these days so far retir'd
From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,
Fluttering among the faint Olympians,
I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspir'd.
So let me be thy choir, and make a moan
Upon the midnight hours;
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 dreaming.
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:
Far, far around shall those dark-cluster'd trees
Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep;
And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds, and bees,
The moss-lain Dryads shall be lull'd to sleep;
And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreath'd trellis of a working brain,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,
With all the gardener Fancy e'er could feign,
Who breeding flowers, will never breed the same:
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!
might as well post this (Even though Im not particularly proud of it. the longer version is 4 pages longer...so I might as well post the original.)
A Pretty Piece of Paganism
According to some critics, Keats’ “Ode to Psyche” appears solely to be a pretty experiment in paganism and a tribute to his muse, Psyche. On the contrary, shining through the ore of Keats’ language is an erotic lyrical narrative that illuminates a creative epiphany in which Psyche and Eros become married. The consummation is made possible by transport on the wings of poets to a realm that melds earth and heaven and lives outside of time. This is a realm analogous to the dream state that exists between sleep and waking, a figurative “dawn” of consciousness. Unlike Coleridge’s ode to imagination and the creative process, “Soliloquy of the Full Moon, She Being in a Mad Passion,” Keats’ poem disregards the imaginative problems of the binary of man and nature, aiming instead to discover the nature of the creative trance. In the act of creating this ode, Keats transcends indolence to write the subsequent famous four odes as he channels the genius inspired by his discovery of his muse, Psyche.
The 67 line ode is constructed of four stanzas derived from elements of Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnet forms. The poem’s stanza structure tends to more closely follow the Petrarchan sonnet. Its rhyme scheme more closely follows the Shakespearean sonnet form. Critics hypothesize that “Psyche” is Keats’ first written ode because it is more experimental structurally than his other odes, and seems to set up the groundwork for the structures of the other odes. Thus, “Ode to Psyche” is the fruition of an epiphany in both imagination and style. The ode deals with the story of two characters of Greek mythology, Psyche and Eros. In the poem, Keats bemoans Psyche’s treatment by the ancients as mortal. He chooses instead to venerate her as a goddess; an idea first introduced by Roman writer, Lucius Apuleius in 150 AD. Figuratively, the myth is an archetypal story of love (an “immortal” concept) falling in love with mortal beauty (assuming beauty is a rightfully assigned quality of “spirit,” “mind,” or “soul.”) Lucius Apuleius’ story is considered the first moment in which the marriage of eros and psyche is consummated in “song,” making Psyche’s beauty immortal.
Although the first four lines of the stanza play with and
introduce the poem’s conception of music, the majority of the stanza
illustrates the themes of the poem by focusing on the visual perceptions of the
narrator. Lines 1-4 introduce the poem, set in a realm divorced from time in which only the relationship between the
narrator and the goddess is important. Lines 5-24 depict a natural scene that
the narrator presumably witnessed in the recent past. This scene is constructed
of the narrator’s sensory observations, though perceptive capacity is assigned
to flowers (13) and dawn (20) as well. Just as Keats dismisses the binary
between man and nature, he also dismisses the binary between mind and body,
establishing sensuousness as elemental to the functioning of the faculties of
imagination. That in mind, one of the strangest moments of the poem occurs in
line eight: “on the sudden, fainting with surprise.” This line is strange
because fainting is not sudden and the structure and composition of the line is
not presented suddenly. Either Keats seeks to incorporate a sense of melodrama,
or he plays with the word “faint” by assigning it another meaning: “to feign.”Either
Keats manipulates his readers, or he reveals that he only pretends to doubt the
possibility of the realization of the marriage of spirit and love. Perhaps he
has hoped for and suspected its existence all along. How very Romantic, Keats!
This is especially sad given the likely connection between the Psyche character
and Keats’ lifelong love, Fanny Brawne.
The absurd Kierkegaard-ian sacrifice is evident in both “Ode to Psyche” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The subjects of Keats’ two odes are perpetually frozen in artistic stills. They are denied the climactic moment of consemmation or sacrifice, yet perpetually hopeful. This absurd hope is reflective of Keats’ feelings for Fanny Brawne and illuminates the best of Keats’ work.
The first line of the first stanza directly addresses the goddess, Psyche. In lines 1-4, The narrator invites the goddess to listen to, “these tuneless numbers, wrung/ By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,/ And pardon that thy secrets should be sung/ Even into thine own soft-conched ear.” The first line suggests that the narrator’s song is “wrung” like a bell, while the third line depicts that it is sung, the instruments melt into each other. The natural human voice and the instrument man creates to compliment the voice fuse together. The origin of the narrator’s voice is likened to an inanimate object, negating his identity. In the third and fourth lines, the narrator be grieves the necessity of making Psyche’s “secrets” material, even if that material falls upon her ear alone. The creation and delivery of the song IS necessary and perhaps symbolic of the consummation of the relationship between poet and Psyche. The nature of music is such that the maker must listen to the harmonies of music in order to stay in tune or continue with the musical narrative of the song. The image of music making implies a state in which the narrator must listen and communicate at the same time.
In this stanza, Keats’ employment of the conch image in line 4 is significant because the conch (a conch horn more specifically,) too, is capable of making music. Lines 1-4 illustrate a circular transfusion of communicative art and eroticism. The theme of the circular transfusion of energy is intrinsic to the structure and subject of the poem.
Lines 5-23 establish a scene recollected from a dream-like state. This state is never clarified as a belonging to either sleep or wakefulness. The narrator himself is unsure, saying, “Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see/ The winged Psyche with awaken’d eyes?” In this scene, Keats’ gilded language paints a scene of sleeping lovers tangled in embrace. The narrator names their arms, “pinions,” a relevant and slightly ironic word choice. Besides “arms,” “pinions” could mean “poet,” “wings” or “shackles.” In context, wings are relevant because both Psyche and Eros are winged beings (and the narrator describes them as such in this stanza.) The other meanings are also related: Arms allow the poet to write poetry, wings transport the archetypal lovers to a realm that transcends time, melding earth and heaven, and shackles…shackle. This could mean two things: first, that the lovers are shackled to each other by the very thing that allows them to consummate their connection, and second that the devices of the poet both free and shackle him.
In this trope, the creation of poetry becomes a paradoxical process. Its devices, binding and freeing. These devices transport the lovers to a fantastical realm that is also paradoxical. This realm is governed by the rules of heaven and earth, and yet, imagining heaven and earth coexisting is illogical (and Christian?) These rules seem to be bound together by logical harmony of the coexistence of Psyche and the sensory. The lovers are sheltered by a “whisp’ring roof/ Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran/ A brooklet, scarce espied.” They sleep on a marriage bed of grass beneath a whispr’ing roof of trembling blossoms walled in by hush’d flowers of assorted hues: an earthly abode for winged, celestial creatures. Psyche and Eros are earth bound and heaven destined. Mortal and immortal. The narrator judges neither superior.
Furthermore, the lovers’ lips are markedly not touching, and just separated by the throws of the night’s sleep. This image equates the sleeping lovers with their sleeping narrator. Do the lovers dream of their narrator as he dreams of them? Does this negate the reality of their meeting? This image also aids the reader in envisaging an erotic scene that could’ve occurred prior to the narrator’s vision. The consummation between lovers is never made explicit in verse. In lines 20-24, the narrator recalls an image of the “tender eye-dawn of aurorean love.” This image introduces the narrator’s dawning recognition that Eros’ lover is indeed, the goddess, Psyche. Line 23 of the stanza likens Psyche to a dove, the symbolic animal of the goddess, Aphrodite (Goddess of love and immortal beauty.) This is a little strange because Psyche is usually represented by the butterfly, so presumably Keats has changed the game of mythology to suit aesthetics. Finally, the last line of the stanza denotes Psyche as a possession of Eros. Perhaps this trope indicates that immortal love possesses a spirit with qualities of mortal, earthly beauty- a concept that contains multitudes of angles to explore. Keats undertakes the exploration accordingly.
The second stanza is the only one of the four in which the lyric I is absent. Moreover, it is the only stanza of the four that pretends to exist outside of Keats’ imagination. Although the idea of the historical past is more or less concrete within the objective human conception of time, most of the narrative of the poem exists in a realm in which time is subjective. Of course, objectivity is essentially impossible because the entire poem exists within Keats’ imagination.
The language of this stanza establishes two separate sets of (once again, more or less) concrete images. The concreteness presents palatable ore easily accesible to the average reader but difficult to relate to the themes of the poem. The first image map includes images that the narrator considers less beautiful than goddess, Psyche. The second image map consists of images of worship and ceremony never indulged upon her in the time of ancient Greece (as she was not then considered a goddess.) The first set of images deemed less beautiful than Psyche include, “Phoebe’s sapphire-region’d star,” the moon, and “vesper,” the North Star (likened to a “glow-worm,” in the same line.) Vesper also means poet, religious song, and evening bird song. Ironically, Keats often referrs to himself in his letters as the lone, ill-fated North Star. This further suggests the convoluted relationship between Psyche and the poet. Psyche is the spirit of genius that flows through the poet, inspiring him and seeding him with an identity, the“poet.” Conversely, the poet becomes the vehicle that enables Psyche to fly to the realm where she consummates her eternal connection with Eros. Shackling herself to him (happily.) Thus, in order to become immortal, Psyche must enter the poet, and he must transport her. These lines serve to outline the creative process as well as point out its failures: The poet is not as beautiful as beauty, and his art, though possibly immortal, loses something of Psyche’s mortal beauty in the process of creation.
The circular transfusion of energies between poet, eros and psyche implies the orgasm not explicitly present in the text. The narrator must somehow manifest both Eros and Psyche within himself for consummation to be possible. However, it does not seem that the poet is equally as enamored with Eros as he is with Psyche. Maybe the poet employs Eros in order to lure Psyche. Or perhaps he becomes him.
In the spirit of circularity, its worth noting that both Psyche and the narrator possess the ability to make music- though the poet sings, and the muse is an instrument (or uses one?) In stanza 1, lines 1-5, the voice of the narrator and the bell (instrument of the goddess) become one, further evidence of the fusion of Psyche and narrator.
The succeeding images of worship in stanza 2, lines 28-32 include a temple, an “altar heap’d with flowers,” a “virgin-choir to make delicious moan,” a voice, lute, pipe, incense, shrine, grove and an oracle (that last of which is fraudulent in the context of the original myth and is most likely included for purposes of aesthetic ore.) In the lines mentioned (28-32) Psyche is denied the sensual pleasures of these images, but in the third stanza, the narrator showers her with them.
The third stanza relocates from classical Greece back to the narrator’s mind. He re-addresses the goddess, exclaiming, “O brightest! though too late for antique vows,/ Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,/ When holy were the haunted boughs,/ Holy the air, the water, and the fire.” Perhaps this exclamation presents the narrators perception of Classical Greece, an epoch more closely in tune with nature and the basic elements of life, less complicated by civilization. Though he goes on to say, “Yet even in these days so far retir’d/ From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,/ Fluttering among the faint Olympians,/ I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.” The word “retir’d” in the first line of the excerpt suggests that classical Greece is a dream conceived by the narrator’s world, or that Olympus was a dream conceived of by the inhabitants of classical Greece. Yet the “reality” of the narrator is not even mentioned, so is it less real to the narrator than the half dream state?
Regardless of the questionable realness of reality, the
narrator infuses the third stanza with “hazy” diction. This device functions to
further divorce the reader from the concepts of old pagan religious ceremonies.
The phrase, “faint Olympians,” juxtaposed by the phrase just before it, “lucent
fans” draws attention away from Olympus towards the Lucent Fan. What is a
lucent fan!? A Lucent fan is most obviously a reference by the narrator to
himself (or other moderns who might venerate (or be a fan of) a pagan goddess.)
Less obviously, the “lucent fan” has a multitude of meanings. The word, “fans” could mean “wings,” a fire agitation device, a dial, a quintain, a poet, or an admirer. This septima trope provides a new structure within which to play with the identity of the poet, as he is now associated with a set of wings, the device that creates poetry (arms and wings, metaphorically,) the poetic structure itself, a fire agitator (wind maker) and a sun dial and a shackle.
In lines 43-49, inspired by the presence of Psyche, The narrator imaginatively transforms his identity to become the sensuous dwelling place that Psyche was denied in the days of the ancients. The narrator becomes a manifestation of her moaning choir, her voice, her lute, her pipe, her burning incense, her shrine, her grove, her oracle, and her dreaming lover heat. He also becomes her voice, her instrument, her shelter, her match maker (in the myth, the oracle tells her how to go about finding her true love) and her lover’s heat- and all this in the expanse of six lines. He willingly gives himself to her, open to her possession. Everything of him, within him and created by him becomes a tribute of her beauty (the beauty of the mind and spirit.)
In the final stanza, the narrator formally invites the reader into his mind. This stanza is the only stanza with no mention of music. It is silent and turned completely consciously inward. The narrator becomes a priest in the temple he builds for Psyche in his mind, “Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane/ In some untrodden region of my mind.” Almost predictably, the word “fane,” which most apparently means “temple” also means flag, weathercock, nymph and POET. Is the narrator building a poet in his mind? The following two lines read, “Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,/ Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.” This line depicts a forest of epiphany growing in his brain. The paradoxical “pleasant pain” probably refers to Keats’ conception of beauty as something that is both pleasant and painful. The following line correlates directly to this theme, because “pines” are not only a kind of tree, but also pitiful lament or a torture device. Although beauty can be painful, it cannot be hopelessly depressing or tormenting.
The narrator then begins to build a mountain in his mind,
“Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep.” The mountain image is
relevant because in the original myth of Psyche and Eros, Psyche asks the
oracle how to find her true love and the oracle bid her to jump off of a
mountain because her immortal true love would catch her. Furthermore, the word
fledge means “to feather,” and youthful, and the word “steep” means vertically
inclined, fig, to soak, jewels, stars, eyes and POET. If the reader imagines the first part of the
image, he might picture a flying mountain, If he conjoins it with the second,
he might picture a flying mountain built with the material of stars, jewels,
eyes and poets. This singular image almost unites all of the images of the
In lines 59-68, the narrator describes the process and
means by which he decorates the temple in his brain “A rosy sanctuary will I
dress/ With the wreath’d trellis of a working brain,/ With buds, and bells, and
stars without a name, with all the gardener Fancy e’er could feign,/ Who
breeding flowers, will never breed the same:/ And there shall be for thee all
soft delight/ That shadowy thought can win,/ A bright torch, and encasement ope
at night,/ To let the warm Love in!” The narrator describes the décor of the
temple as, presumably, it grows in his brain. The rosy wreath’d trellis
sanctuary, decorated with buds and bells and stars without a name. These stars
and bells and buds and uniquely bred flowers, the creation of a feigning
gardener. The word, “feign” is reminiscent of the narrator in stanza 1, line 8
when he claims to “faint with surprise.” Clearly, the narrator is referring to
himself as the gardener as he’s growing an entire world in his head to devote
solely to Psyche- and the entire poem is awash in the products of this
From lines 64-68, the narrator promises Psyche that she shall have as much delight as “shadowy thought can win,” and then, in the final two lines, he describes a “bright torch” and an open shelter constructed to usher love in. A torch is a fire-y orange/red flower. Perhaps the narrator is describing the faint of poetry as an orange flowered harbinger of light in the shadows of the brain’s tangled thoughts? A light leading to the shelter designed for Psyche and Eros? Shall Love enter Psyche? We will never know. Neither shall we ever be treated to lyrics depicting the erotic culmination, if, in fact, it exists.
Like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the two main characters depicted by the narrator of the ode are frozen stills. Through the narrator’s eyes, the reader only directly views Psyche and Eros in the first stanza. The second stanza depicts cultural and mythological construction, the third stanza depicts the narrator’s imagined relationship with the cultural and mythological construction, and the final stanza depicts the narrator in the throws of creative trance, possessed by eros for Psyche. The frozen still of the first stanza is a harmonious picture of dawn of consciousness, balanced between waking life and dreams. The narrator and his subjects are either divided by the individual nature of this state, or perhaps, in harmonious communion because of it. If at all, the moment of penetration occurs in this first stanza of the poem as the narrator sings into Psyche’s ear. In the moment of penetration, the entire ode is seeded and begins to grow.
The trancelike state evident in the first and final stanzas is inspired by psyche’s welcomed possession of the narrator. In order to create an immortal piece of art through which, Psyche flows freely, the poet must lose his identity and adapt a character of pure eros. Since Psyche is spirit of mortal mind, the artist must embrace beauty of this world- a task accessible to any man capable of sensory perception. Whether or not man is capable of producing a lovechild of immortal art is unanswerable. Where Coleridge is a loony sorcerer, Keats is a starry eyed hypnotist.
Colls, Bart. "Notes. Keats, John. 1884. Poetical Works." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and hundreds more. Web. 12 Dec. 2009. <http://www.bartleby.com/126/1000.html>.
"John Keats and Christianity." Tekton Apologetics Ministries. James Patrick Holding. Tektonitron apologetics Encyclopedia. answering Bible difficulties and Bible contradictions. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.tektonics.org/gk/keats01.html>.
"Romanticism On the Net 1 (February 1996)." Érudit. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/1996/v/n1/005708ar.html>.