’s Odes – The Relationship Between Thought And Feeling Essay, Research Paper
?O for a life of sensations rather than thoughts!? What is the relation between thought and feeling in Keats?s odes?
Out of all his poetry, the odes appear to be the most sensually explored poems that Keats wrote. Through this collection of poetry he deeply explores the world of feelings and the enjoyment of them as well as the idea of a transient existence. Do the poems, however, show a separation between thoughts and feelings, and what evidence is there that Keats is trying to obtain his wish for a ?life of sensations rather than thoughts??
One of the most striking things about the odes with respect to sensations is the language used. In all of his poems, but especially in the odes, Keats uses highly mimetic language to build upon whatever sensual idea he is trying to portray. In Ode to Psyche there is a seemingly endless use of alliteration. The sibilance of how ?the secrets should be sung? and the ?soft-handed slumber? and the alliteration of ?t? in ?these, though temple thou? among with many more examples create an almost dreamlike and transient atmosphere within which to set the poem. This use of alliteration is also found in To Autumn where Keats uses the alliteration of ?m? and ?s? to open the poem with ?Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness?. In Ode to a Nightingale the same technique is used to rather different effects. Here the alliterative ?d?, ?p? and ?m? found throughout the first opening lines create a sluggish weightiness corresponding to Keats?s ?dull? ache. Although the atmosphere being created here is much different to the one used in Ode to Psyche it is the sensations and feelings that are being highlighted through the use of alliteration.
Another technique used by Keats to create a sensuous mood to his poetry is the repeated use of ternary structure. In Ode to a Nightingale ternary structure appears a number of times with ?the weariness, the fever and the fret? and ?the grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild?. However, it is in Ode to Indolence where he use of threes is most obvious. The actual poem is centred on the three personified images of ?Love / The second was Ambition? and then Keats?s ?demon Posey?. The relevance of using a continued pattern of three is that throughout time, an element of mystery has surrounded the use of threes and it is unequivocally connected the Holy Trinity.
As well as the detailed use of alliteration and ternary structure to create a desired effect, Keats also uses a number of other literal techniques that give his poetry a much more sensual feel with which to match the topics he addresses. One of the most obvious techniques, as already seen Ode to Indolence is that of personification. Not only are the titles of his odes personified, Psyche, Melancholy, Indolence and Autumn, with a Nightingale and a Grecian Urn already physical enough to address, but also many of the other abstract nouns that appear in the poems. In Ode to Nightingale, ?Death? is personified as Keats calls ?him soft names in many a mused rhyme?. Beauty is both personified in Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to Melancholy where Keats states that ?Beauty must die?. By personifying the untouchable, Keats makes feelings and other sensations much more obtainable. By making a more physical connection between him and such abstract ideas, sensations are made more ?immediate?. However it also makes them much more material and therefore removing them from a purely sensual experience.
As seen already, Keats?s use of personification seems to contradict his views. However, it is not purely personification that seems to undermine his ideas on thoughts and feelings. By merely writing about feelings and sensations he has already shown his thoughts. What are his poems if they are not his views and thoughts on such matters? Not only is thought used by association, but the highly structured forms of language that are used in Keats?s poetry is one that requires a great deal of thought; if it did not, then anyone could write highly acclaimed poetry and become world famous. Therefore it can be concluded that there is an automatic level of thought connected to the sensations dealt with in the odes.
With this in mind we can look at any further relationship between feeling and thought other than the physically obvious. Although the language used is very sensual regardless of topic matter, the actually sensuality of the odes is only found by examining the content of the poem. By doing this, it appears that the odes can be divided into two groups, one of supposedly purely sensual poems and the others that have a much more intellectual atmosphere about them.
In Ode to Psyche there is a heavy sensual emphasis from the very being when a transient state is set up when it appears Keats?s ?dreamt? the scene depicted by the poem. The limenal state where everything appears real but is in fact not, is seen when Keats questions whether he was dreaming, or ?did [he] see? reality. By setting the poem in an apparent limbo state, Keats focuses closely on sensations, as when asleep you cannot explain things, nor think about them. The important fact about Ode to Psyche which places it safely into the sensually based grouped of odes is that there is no reflection. The majority of the poem is merely portraying a story of what the narrator supposedly saw as he ?wander?d in a forest?. Perhaps what is most relevant to relationship between thought and feeling is seen in the first stanza when it is reported that he was wandering ?thoughtlessly?. The fact that he is indeed not engulfed in thoughts when he comes across the ?two fair creatures? emphasises Keats?s philosophy that one can only truly enjoy sensations and the sensual world by abandoning thought, and simply experiencing. Perhaps if he had been thinking, he would not have witnessed the sight. However, while the language and majority of content is moving towards a very sensual scene, some of the topic matter is in reference to thoughts being a way of experiencing some sensations. Keats states that he wants to ?build a fane / In some untrodden region of [his] mind, / Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain?. Here it seems clear that he wants the sensations he?s experiencing with Psyche to help him explore this new experience. This wish, however, could be taken to represent Keats?s eagerness to be able to experience sensations without having to think about them. If they were already in his mind, then he would not have to turn them into thoughts.
In Ode to Indolence, this idea of merely wanting to enjoy sensations rather than thinking and debating them is also foremost. Keats is eager to become passive, not wanting to analyse everything he experiences and this is highlighted through the metaphor of the ?lawn besprinkled o?er / With flowers, and stirring shades, and baffled beams?. Here, like Keats, the lawn is passive yet open to sensual experiences. Throughout this poem there is a preoccupation with the ?immediate? nature of experience. Keats writes that ?to follow them [he] burn?d / And ached for wings? and later as ?they faded? he ?wanted wings?. However, as this poem progresses it becomes increasingly philosophical as he asks ?What is Love! And where is it?? As Keats moves on to denounce ?poor Ambition? and ?Posey? who ?has not a joy? he is clearing thinking about what they each represent. The entire poem suggests that Keats is very confused over his wish for Indolence and a passive attitude to life. The use of the highly mimetic language found in this poem along with the others seems to contradict his ideas, as the ?three Ghosts? he is trying to get rid off are described in a very sensuous style.
To Autumn is probably one of the most sensuous poems in the odes collection due to the exact detail given to the sensations of autumn, focusing heavily on the natural elements. However, this too has a hidden intellectual aspect to it, that everything is balanced. Autumn itself is a transitional period between summer and winter, thus balancing life and death. Throughout the poem everything mentioned seems to be balanced out. The images of ?the maturing sun? and the ?ripeness? of fruit suggest a feeling of stasis, but this is contradicted and balanced out by the use of verbs that suggest activity with the sun ?conspiring? with autumn to ?set budding more, / And still more, later flowers for the bees, / Until they think the warm days will never cease?. While activity is used to describe stillness, in the second stanza, stillness it used to describe activity with the image of a busy harvest being portrayed by autumn ?sitting careless on the granary floor?. This continued balance seems to also suggest an ambivalent attitude to death and decay. By highlighting the ?ripeness? of the fruit, Keats is also highlighting the fact, that by being ripe, it now has the ability to decay and die. In this poem, it is almost as if Keats has found a balance between thoughts and sensations. At the same time he is both detached and involved. He describes things as they are and although he does not directly but his views down, they are portrayed by the balance. At a glance, this poem seems to be purely sensual and it is only with a closer look that the underlying balance shows the depth of thought that has gone into it.
Although these three odes have been shown to have some sort of underlying intellectual reference connected to them, compared to the following three odes, it appears that they are much more based on the sensual world rather than that of the philosophical. In Ode to a Nightingale, a Grecian Urn and Melancholy a pattern emerges that shows that although the poems are still aimed towards the sensual world, they fall into complex philosophical debates.
One such debate is that of mortality. In Ode to a Grecian Urn human life is contrasted against the life of the urn. Although the urn is immortal compared to human life, it is at the same time lifeless. Although the lovers ?for ever wilt love? they ?never, never canst kiss? and ?beneath the trees, [they] canst not leave?. In this poem the idea of mortality is set against immortality, with Keats comparing his inevitable death with the urn?s endless life. Although he will die, and the urn will supposedly live on, it does not lead a life he would want. ?She cannot fade? but yet the relationship of the depicted lovers is frozen as if dead. Another idea associated with death and mortality in this poem is that if one dies young, they are remembered as such and are preserved like the scene on the urn.
Mortality is also explored with reference to transcendence in Ode to a Nightingale. By enjoying the sensations of the nightingale?s song he longs to be in union with the bird to have a much more immediate experience of such feelings. The poem deals with the idea that death is a way of achieving a transient state. He longs to escape the suffering of the human world ?where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies? and ?where men sit and hear each other groan?. However, death would result in him not being able to enjoy such sensations as the nightingale?s song, as although the bird is just as mortal as he, the song is not.
The idea of mortality is also linked to another idea explored in the odes, and that is the need for emotional suffering. In Ode to a Grecian Urn it is seen that without death, there is no life and this idea that negative things are needed to create the positive is seen through the sensual experiences in Ode to Melancholy. Melancholy is ?like a weeping cloud? that it is a necessary part of life. Keats explores the idea that a period of melancholy is a time when one can be very close to the transient world, enjoying a more immediate experience with nature. However, by explaining and exploring this idea, he is in fact seemingly undermining his stated views. The entire poem is focused, like a debate, on the positives of melancholy, and although the endless sensual language creates the image of ?droop-headed flowers?, an ?April shroud? and a ?rainbow? the actually tone of the poem is based heavily on the intellectual argument rather than experience.
Another issue that shows Keats?s thoughts in his poetry is that of beauty. Beauty is foremost in the world of sensations and feelings, but it is one of the ideas that Keats?s has most difficultly with often leading to unresolved and clearly intellectual confusion. The image of ?Beauty? ? as personified, appears in most of the odes from the beauty of the nightingale?s song ?where [Beauty] cannot keep her lustrous eyes? on human life, to the idea that Beauty ?must die? in Ode to Melancholy. However, in this context beauty seems to be simply one of the many aspects of contradictory reality. The main debate, however, is contrary to this and comes in the last two lines of Ode to a Grecian Urn where Keats states that ?Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.? It is clear that Keats has given a lot of thought into the role of Beauty. It seems to suggest that art is beautiful as the unflinching representation of all aspect of true life and one of the most sensual experiences of them all.
By the pure nature of using a poem to explore sensations and feelings there is an immediate connection between thoughts and sensations. When using the medium of poetry it seems impossible to separate thoughts and written feelings, for one is just another take on the other. A poem is something over which great care is taken to build the structure and vocabulary around the subject matter. By looking at all the odes it appears that no matter what Keats was aiming to do, they end up dealing with very complex issues. Admittedly there is a divide between the poems that are purely debates on philosophical sensual issues, and the odes which are more focused on the sensations and wish for transcendence. However this is only a very fine divide as both circumstances occur in both types of poems. It would appear that in the odes, Keats has certainly not found his ?life of sensations? as he seems to be thinking too much about them. It would appear that it is virtually impossible to separate the two ideas of feelings and thoughts in a mortal world. Humans are designed to think about things, explore them in their minds and try to draw conclusions. Keats seems to enjoy the debate which sensations create far too much to be able to live in it without reflection.