Wednesday, August 25, 2010

''Ode on Melancholy''

Click to enlarge


[An excerpt]

John Keats

Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones,
      And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch creeds together for a sail, with groans
      To fill it out, bloodstained and aghast;
Although your rudder be a Dragon's tail,
      Long sever'd, yet still hard with agony,
            Your cordage large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa; certes you would fail
      To find the Melancholy, whether she
            Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull.


This is the original first stanza, withheld from publication, of Keats's "Ode on Melancholy" — although in fact it is the most interesting section of the poem. The rest of the ode, as published, can be found here. The poet's theme, that the most acute melancholy is experienced not through horror but thwarted happiness, is irrefutable.

(Illustration is John Martin (1789-1854), Cadmus and the Dragon.)

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