Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fear creating reality

The poem "when I have fears..." suggests that by being afraid of losing something valuable such as a lover or one's own life a person actually creates the circumstance by which they lose these things. Keats suggests that instead of being afraid of pain and paralyzed by its possibility a person should actually embrace pain. Without that embrace one runs the risk of becoming a person so focused on guarding their life that they lose it and everything it had to offer them. A similar suggestion of acceptance is put forth in "Ode to Melancholy". He makes the classic argument of bad experiences making the good that much more worthwhile.
John Keats', "Ode on Melancholy," urges the reader to embrace emotional pain so that one can better experience happiness. This idea seems inherent, but often forgotten. How can someone know good feelings if they never experience bad ones. The first stanza challenges the reader,

Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;

The stronger the emotion on one spectrum, it will be equally strong at the other end, for every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the second stanza, Keats shows that this idea is true of nature as well as man using the metaphor of, "weeping," rain clouds bringing flowers. Closing the poem, Keats turns his attention to a woman, talking about fleeting beauty and compares this with short lived joy. However, without the pains and tribulations of love, it will never last. Without melancholy, there will be no joy. Keats offers an analysis of the inherent opposites in life and how a delicate balancing act achieves nature's plan for us all.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Yesterday Peter wrote a post about how DeQuincey was caught in an abstraction, and though he first seeks to leave the body, he eventually tries to regain himself within his body again. This just seemed very interesting when compared to Keats, who wanted desperately to remain within himself and continue to write, but has also had a very intimate relationship with death all of his life.

Being the assistant to a surgeon, he must have constantly been around death, and not only death, but bloody, REAL death. Then, later, when he discovers that he has tuberculosis, that death becomes very personal once again. Because of all these connections, he vacillates between the desire to live and the desire to die, much as DeQuincey is caught in a world where he wants both abstraction and to find his body again. I feel like this point is shown when we look at Ode to a Nightingale. Although he is jealous of the nightingale for being able to live on while he cannot, Death to him seems something familiar. He writes, how recently he has become almost intimate with Death:
"I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy! "

I think the interesting contradiction here is that the joy in life makes him want to keep living, but at the same time, right now his soul is in such ecstasy that he can die. So does happiness make us want to stay alive or does it make us feel ok to die? Also, I feel like because he has been around death so much, although he regrets that it is coming early, he has always been fascinated by it, and is willing to die if it means being able to let go of all of things that have made his life complicated or hard.
I think one

Composition of Odes

There is so much in the content of Keats' works that I honestly could not pick something to write on detail, so I figured I'd talk about something that has had me wondering for a while in a more general sense.

That's the composition of odes. I really like the premise for odes; make an intimate analysis, almost a mental worship of an object or theme that wouldn't typically be the subject of such attention. The stylistic aspect is what throws me off. With sonnets, although the meter can be a bit tough at times to imagine inflection, odes seem to be all over the place. It's hard to read through one without feeling completely disjointed. There is a rhyme scheme but even that seems out of balance with the syllabic rhythm. My only guess as to why the odes seem more "choppy" for lack of a better word is that something that's so deep and based on pure emotional reaction would seem kind of false if time was taken to fit it into a more strict meter, although Keats' sonnets disprove this theory fairly easily.

On a side note, I absolutely love Keats and "When I Have Fears" is probably my favorite poem of all time. That being said, I really didn't like hearing the recordings of it. In one, I think it was the woman's reading, the meter is actually messed up... "piled" is only said as one syllable thus leaving the line with only 9 syllables. In general I think the readers overdid it; the sonnet is meant to be at a more natural rhythm, and pausing for unnatural lengths kind of ruins part of the point, in my opinion.

Nightingales and Opiates

Let me start off by saying that Keats is quite possibly my favorite poet. I choose to believe that Keats wrote "Ode to a Nightingale" in one sitting, just because it makes him more of a genius in his tragically short life.
Keats was very aware of the presence of death in his life, due to the fact that his father died when he was a child from a fractured skull after falling off a horse, and his mother, uncle, and brother Tom all died from Tuberculosis. Tom's death hit him especially hard because he survived while his brother did not. (this is from my presentation research).

Therefore, the fact that his poems all seem to mention death is not unusual. Mary Beth made a good point that the topics he chooses for his odes are not exactly celebratory. In fact, in "Ode to a Nightingale," he becomes angry at the nightingale for "being too happy in thine happiness," that the nightingale has no cares and "singest of summer in full-throated ease." I think he uses the Nightingale's song as his opiate to escape his illness, for he was dying at the time he wrote this. However, at the very end, he doesn't even know if the nightingale's song was real or if he imagined it all. He no longer knows the difference between dream and reality (much like Dequincey).
"Was it a vison, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?"
Despite the fact that his physical pain seems to go away when he flies away on the "viewless wings of Poesy," which serves to say that his imagination and escape are not substantial and will eventually fade, just as he will eventually die. Even in his escape, he suffers a kind of emotional pain, and he shows images of "sad beauty" because their beauty is not real.
I feel like listening to "Ode to a Nightingale" would enhance the poem's ethereal sadness. Just listening to "When I have fears" and "This Living Hand" made a greater impact in the poem's meaning.

Ode to a Nightingale--Imagine That

In the biography of Keats online, the author states, “Often in Keats's poems the poet figure identifies with the beautiful, whether this is a nightingale or a Grecian urn, and participates in that beauty. This ability to lose oneself in the other, the ability of the 'camelion poet', defines his kind of poetry in opposition to that demonstrated by Wordsworth, in which the self is imposed on the other.” I found this tension between Keats and Wordsworth very interesting, especially in relation to our discussion of DeQuincey’s work on Tuesday and Peter’s post for this week. Keats definitely loses himself in “Ode to a Nightingale”—at the end of the poem he states, “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!” He needs to be recalled to himself and leave the dreamy world he has created around the nightingale. This departure from reality to “participate in beauty” is reminiscent of DeQuincey’s dreams and fantastic imaginings in his work. Just as DeQuincey does not know whether he is awake or asleep while dreaming, Keats too asks, “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? … Do I wake or sleep?” Again this shows the disjunction between body and mind, which Peter talks about in his post. Although Keats does not use opium to attain this disparity, he allows his mind to wander far from his physical body. His intellect has soared and left his body behind—we would generally call this imagination. Our minds are capable of things our bodies are not. We can imagine flying, we can imagine being a fish, we can imagine almost anything, yet it does not mean that it is physically or bodily possible. In the end, we are always restrained, and, interestingly, the body is necessary to record the intellect’s lofty musings and imaginations. In the end neither one escapes the other. Overall, however, I’m still thinking about this and have not drawn any final conclusions yet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Ode to a Nightingale"

As I read Keat's "Ode to a Nightingale," I noticed a very interesting relationship between the poet and the nightingale. A poem that focuses on the grim reality of death and seems to have a very somber tone is simultaneously, glorifying the immortality of poetry that is represented by the nightingale in the poetry. Although the nightingale, like a human, is a slave to death; there is something about the song that the nightingale sings that allows it to transcend their mortal and natural state to become more meaningful and everlasting. For Keats, the nightingale's song is parallel to his poetry like it typically did in the pastoral literary tradition. In fact, in stanza 4, he uses classical images like that of Bacchus to highlight the transciency of life and the importance of the song the songbird sings in contrast to death. The pastoral references and tradition are turned upside down as he focuses on death through a medidative/personal mode in contrast to the luring song that the nightingale sings. Like Dequincey's dependency and relationship to opium, it is the song that enables the nightingale to live even though it, itself, has experienced death.

Keat's "Ode on Melancholy"

I thought it was very interesting that Keats would write an "ode on melancholy." Ode's are traditionally works that are celebratory or praise the object, which seemed kind of contradictory to the subject of Keat's poem. Why should we celebrate being melancholy? Keat's supports this assertion by suggesting that melancholy is an emotion that should be appreciated, and he compares this to beauty. He says that rather than contemplate suicide ("No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist..."), he claims that one should be grateful for the experience of the emotion ("Then glut the sorrow on a morning rose, ...").
However, I found it really interesting that the beautiful objects to which Keat's compares melancholy, are objects whose beauty is not permanent. For example, he uses such objects as a rose, a rainbow, and a shore - the rose will eventually wilt, the rainbow will disappear, and the shore will be washed away. He sums this up in the opening of the last stanza - "She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die." ( I also found interesting that this line's structure is very similar to Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty" in the early Romantic period).
Maybe, Keats is suggesting that we should embrace the ability to feel a range of powerful emotions, and that melancholy should be appreciated for its effect because the emotion will not last for ever.

Keats' Authenticity of Self

Reading the introductory information to Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" and the strange argument between Brown and Dilke over the true nature of the composition of the poem left me wondering, quite simply, "What does it matter?" It seems as though the legend of the creation of a poem, however much it adds to the ambiance of summer and tranquility, is ultimately secondary to the actual reading of the poem itself. The image of Keats sitting beneath the nightingale nested in a tree at midsummer produces itself through the poem for the reader, regardless of whether or not the reader knew the story Brown told.

On further consideration, however, it seems that the story is not what is primarily at issue here, or rather, it is only tangentially. The petty-seeming argument seems to be more profoundly linked to issues of authenticity in writing. Keats' place as the poet in this poem rests on his position while writing it, and it is a distinction to which it seems Keats would have been attuned. If we map this concern with authenticity (although displayed by those other than Keats in this case) onto "When I have fears that I may cease to be," it becomes plausible that authenticity is the one thing about which he harbors the most fears. Keats' conveyance of self through his writing becomes his only way to assert his identity to the outside world, and it is therefore paramount that this assertion take on the authenticity of self that will leave an accurate representation. His language of "glean'd," "charact'ry," "cloudy symbols," "shadows," "unreflecting," and "nothingness" creates an unstated mind that requires the authenticity of his own writing to be adequately created and conveyed to an audience. It is in this authenticity, then, in the exacting transcription of his reality of self and surroundings, that Keats can also find immortality.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


At the very end of class we touched on a theme that really resonated with what I noticed in Dequincey's autobiography: the idea of being "trapped" in the state of abstraction. The entire narrative reminded me very much of the the "Bodies and Souls" pieces that we read at the beginning of the semester. At first, Dequincey falls in love with the idea of the philosopher and uses opium to escape from his body. In the end, he struggles violently to re-enter his body. He talks about feeling the pain of digestion, feeling separated from his own hands, being incapable of walking. When he diminishes his reliance on opium, he talks about the pain of passing from one mode of existence to another. Dequincey presents an enormous tension between his body and his mind that is exasperated by his addiction. On the one hand, Dequincey seems to have a sort of philosophical fascination for what is happening to his body, but at the same time it is evident that the physical agony is equally significant as his hallucinations. In my opinion, the author's struggle between reality and abstraction, body and mind, heightened by the opium, was really the central conflict in the narrative.

Ann & Images of Opium

As I read "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," I was really interested in the girl he met in London. His relationship to Ann was really special even though she was a prostitute. He understood her situation and was sympathetic. "For many weeks, I had walked at night with this poor friendless girl up and down Oxford Street or had rested with her on steps and under the shelter of porticos..." (page 50) After he heard her story, he encouraged her to seek legal aid. I was surprised at his closeness to her and the emotional aspect of their parting. It was hard for him to leave but he wasn't as attached to her as she was to him. He was hopeful and somewhat cheerful but it was much harder for her. "I had, apparently, most reason for dejection, because I was leaving the saviour of my life: yet I, considering the shock of my health had received, was cheerful and full of hope. She on the contrary, who was parting with one how had little means of serving her, except by kindness and brotherly treatment, was overcome by sorrow..." (page 57) She never returns in the story except when he realizes that he never got her surname but I think the reader is touched by her kindness to him. They are both reaching out to each other in their different, yet similar situations. I'm still thinking about the complete significance of her character and what affect she had on him but she stood out to me as I read this. I can see the obvious ideas but I think there is more underneath even though I haven't completely figured it out yet!!

Since this account focuses on opium, I remember that William Wilberforce also had the intense stomach pains and took this drug to take some of the pain away. I pictured the images from Amazing Grace and that suffering gave me a better idea of what Dequincey went through. It was interesting to read the complexity between the pleasures and pains of it and how it affected his mind. It gives me a greater understanding of men like Wilberforce and how important it is that they overcame this problem.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dequincy and Freud

I found one of Dequincey's passages regarding the pains of opium to highly resemble Freud even though "Confessions" was published around 50 years before Freud's ideas were to become popular. Dequincey claims that opium brings back the memories of the past: "there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may, and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind...the inscription remains forever". As most of the class probably knows, Freud holds that many memories are repressed into the subconscious where they can be ignored by the individual. However, they are not forgotten, and Freud believes that "talk-therapy," which is an oration of the patient's stream of consciousness, will reveal past memories and problems. Dequincey believes that opium can enlighten memories of the past in a similar fashion, through dreams, also hearkening back to Freudian psychoanalyst theories. This brings up the interesting role of drugs as an escape mechanism from either societal or psychological ills. Different drugs are used to achieve different ends, but, ultimately, do they accomplish anything (even if they are prescribed)? Do they simply mask the problem, or do they solve it (mainly referring to psychological agents)? Dequincey uses opium to cope with some physical ailments as well as his grief over the death of Wordsworth's daughter, but by the end of the passage, Dequincey calls upon opium eaters to forsake the drug and ultimately cope with their problems alone. This seems to imply that drugs cannot solve a problem, and, for Dequincey, looking to the past only generates more nightmares and problems. I think this is an interesting predecessor of Freud because it doesn't seem to predict or pave the way for his theory.