John Keats uses often uses pain and suffering in his poetry and blends this with sensuous delight and pleasure but pain and suffering are not always paradoxically a source of poetic pleasure in his work. A good example of Keats using pain and suffering, as a form of poetic pleasure is “Ode On Melancholy” (Roe 67). This poem is about pleasure and pain and starts in the first stanza with pain. In this stanza there is a lot of diction to do with depression. The stanza contains many words telling the reader not to turn to narcotics when depressed.
These words of depression and pain include “Lethe”, “Wolf’s bane”, ” Nightshade” and “Beatle” (Roe 67). “Lethe” is one of the rivers of hell, “Wolf’s bane” is a dull yellow plant, “Nightshade” is a plant with poisonous berries and a “Beatle” is an ugly insect. This diction shows the depressed mood of the first stanza and is an argument against a good life and all the pleasurable things in it. This is summed up by the final line of the stanza “And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul”, which shows Keats feels a good experience usually brings intense anguish.
Stanza two tells the reader four things that should be done when melancholy strikes. Melancholy means “Sadness and gloom” (Makins 339). But before these four solutions to melancholy are given the mood of the stanza is set up with the simile “Like a weeping cloud” (Roe 67). This shows emotion and that melancholy can make you cry. Keats four solutions to melancholy are shown in the final six lines of the stanza. The main idea of them is try to enjoy the bad experiences that follow the good. Try to enjoy a lover’s anger even when it seems impossible, as the person will not be a lover forever.
These solutions lead into the final stanza, which shows why Keats feels you should make the most of all moments, as pleasure will never last. This is shown by the phrase “Aching pleasure” (Roe 67). Keats then blends pleasure and pain with the metaphor: “Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:” (Roe 67). The bee sucks sweet nectar, which is a pleasurable experience but this turns to poison which brings pain and suffering. This shows that pain and suffering are a source of poetic pleasure in Keats poetry.
In the final part of the poem Keats asks the question if it is worth experiencing pleasure when all that follows is pain and suffering. Keats feels that only those who experience pleasure will suffer from melancholy. The line “His soul shall taste the sadness of her might” (Roe 67) shows that nothing can be done once pleasure has turned to pain. This is similar to the knight’s situation in “La Belle Dam Sans Merci” (Roe 58) where the knight can’t do anything about his situation. The lines which show this are ” And this is why I sojourn here / Alone and palely loitering;” (Roe 59).
The knight can do nothing, he has been tricked into falling in love which is pleasure, but now his soul has been taken which will bring pain and suffering. His soul has been taken which is what melancholy does to those experiencing pleasure. The words “Trophies” (Roe 67) in the final line are melancholies successes, those people that have let melancholy effect their lives. Keats shows throughout “Ode On Melancholy” that pain and suffering are paradoxically a source of poetic pleasure as the whole poem is based upon pain and he uses this theme to gain pleasure for himself through poetry.
“Lamia” (Roe 70) also shows how Keats uses pain and suffering as a source of poetic pleasure. The poem tells the story of a serpent, who having turned to a woman, falls in love. But at the wedding the serpent’s old teacher, Apollonius arrives and tells the whole story. Apollonius brings pain and suffering by telling the truth. Keats implies it is better not to know the truth most of the time. The pain for Lycius (The serpent’s lover) is summed up by “Than with a frightful scream she vanished: / And Lycius’ arms were empty of delight” (Roe 88).
His pleasure from love earlier on in the poem has been destroyed and he is left with pain and suffering. Keats uses pain and suffering to show that the truth does not always have the best outcome. Although Keats often uses pain and suffering as a source of poetic pleasure this is not always the case. In “Ode On A Grecian Urn” (Roe 65) Keats does not use pain and suffering and a source of poetic pleasure. In this poem Keats writes about an urn and in particular the scenes depicted upon it. Painted upon the urn are a bride and bridegroom and as they are on the urn they cannot die and their love can never fade away.
From the picture on the urn Keats gives lessons and ideas about beauty being raised above the frailties of passion. The first stanza shows that love to a man or woman can be exciting and once love has got hold of you it is hard to escape. This is shown by “What struggle to escape? ” (Roe 65). There is no mention of pain and suffering like in the previous poems in this stanza Keats is getting poetic pleasure through writing about the power of love. The main point that Keats puts across in “Ode to A Grecian Urn” is that physical love is sweet but when it is in the heart and soul it is sweeter.
Keats feels love is better in the imagination, which is shown with the line “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter (Roe 65). Keats also feels that nothing is infinite not even love except in an imaginary world like that on the urn. This is shown by the lines “Ah happy, happy boughs! That cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;” (Roe 65). This is about the tree on the urn not shedding its leaves and remaining happy all year around. Keats wants the reader to think this does not happen with love in the real world and that love is fleeting.
Keats idea about love being fleeting may have been influenced by his own love affair, during which he requested to leave as he was dying of tuberculosis. Keats here is not writing about pain and suffering as a form of poetic pleasure but is using his own experiences of love and his own ideas to write about in his poetry. Here he is warning others about the dangers of love. He is getting poetic pleasure through his own life experiences. Keats often uses pain and suffering, paradoxically, as a source of poetic pleasure as in the case of “Ode To A Grecian Urn” and “Lamia”.
But he does not always use pain and suffering for poetic ideas and pleasure as he also uses his own experiences and ideas for his poetic work in order to give readers warning about life and to show he feels love is fleeting. From this it can be concluded that Keats fells nothing is permanent unless outside reality, for example on an urn.
Bibliography Baldick, Chris. Concise Dictionary Of Literary Terms. New York : Oxford, 1990. Makins, Marian. English Dictionary. Great Britain : Collins, 1996. Roe, Nicholas. John Keats. London : Everyman’s, 2001. Roe, Nicholas. Selected Poems John Keats. London : Everyman’s, 2000. 1