By John Keats (1795-1821)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
......."Ode on Indolence" is a romantic ode, a dignified but highly lyrical (emotional) poem in which the author speaks to a person or thing absent or present. In this famous ode, the speaker addresses Love, Ambition, and Poesy (poetry) as if they were persons.
.......John Keats completed "Ode on Indolence" in 1819. The London firm of Taylor and Hessey published the ode in 1820 as part of a collection entitled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes, and Other Poems.
.......While lying in bed one morning, the speaker sees images of Love, Ambition, and Poetry. They pass before his eyes like the carved images on a rotating Grecian urn. Round and round they go, attempting to rouse him from bed so that he can attend to them. On their third pass, he "burns" to follow them but a moment later says,O folly! What is Love? and where is it?
And for that poor Ambition! it springs
From a mans little hearts short fever-fit;
For Poesy!no,she has not a joy,
At least for me,so sweet as drowsy noons,
And evenings steepd in honeyd indolence........The three images pass one more time before the speaker, However, lulled with drowsy laziness, he tells the images to vanish "and never more return." The theme, thus, is the pleasure of indolence, of doing nothing. In a busy world of must-do tasks--especially the onerous task of writing elegant poetry--indolence can be a welcome visitor from time to time.
.......The end rhyme of the first four stanzas is abab cde cde. The rhyme scheme of the fifth stanza is abab cde dce. The rhyme scheme of the final stanza is abab cde ced.
.......The poem also contains internal rhyme. Here are examples.One morn before me were three figures seen (line 1)
Was it a silent deep-disguisèd plot (line 12)
The first was a fair Maid, and Love her name (line 25)Meter
.......The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter, as the first and second lines demonstrate.........1.....................2...............3..............4..............5
One MORN,..|..be FORE..|..me WERE..|..three FIG..|..ures SEEN
One morn before me were three figures seen,
With bowèd necks, and joinèd hands, side-faced;
And one behind the other steppd serene,
In placid sandals, and in white robes graced;
They passd, like figures on a marble urn,
When shifted round to see the other side;
They came again; as when the urn once more
Is shifted round, the first seen shades return;
And they were strange to me, as may betide1
With vases, to one deep in Phidian2lore......................................10
How is it, Shadows! that I knew ye not?
A third time passd they by, and, passing, turnd
They faded, and, forsooth! I wanted wings:
And once more came they by:alas! wherefore?4
So, ye three Ghosts, adieu! Ye cannot raise
1.....betide: Happen, occur.
2.....Phidian: Adjective alluding to Phidias (circa 490-430 BC), a sculptor of ancient Greece. It is believed that he supervised construction of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens and sculpted the statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the world.
3.....turn'd . . . me: Each passing figure turns his face toward the speaker.
5.....throstle's lay: The song (lay) of a thrush (bird).
6.....spright: Spirit, soul, spirit.
Figures of Speech
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures of speech, click here.)
AlliterationOne morn before me (line 1)
steppd serene (line 3)
as when the urn once more (line 7)
Is shifted round, the first seen shades return (line 8)
deep-disguisèd plot (line 13)
They faded, and, forsooth! I wanted wings (line 31)
My sleep had been embroiderd with dim dreams (line 42)AnaphoraHow is it, Shadows! that I knew ye not?
How came ye muffled in so hush a mask? (lines 11-12)ApostropheHow is it, Shadows! that I knew ye not?
How came ye muffled in so hush a mask?
The speaker addresses the imges as shadows.AssonanceWas it a silentdeep-disguisèdplot (line 12)
The first was a fair Maid, and Love her name(line 25)Irony.......The speaker refuses to answer the call of "demon Poesy," which is attempting to rouse him from bed to write verses. Preferring drowsy indolence, the speaker commands Poesy and her partners, Love and Ambition, to vanish. Ironically, however, he must write poetry--that is, answer the call of the demon--to report the pleasure of "honeyd indolence" (line 37).MetaphorThe blissful cloud of summer-indolence
Comparison of indolence to a cloud
My soul had been a lawn (line 43)
And ever watchful with fatiguèd eye (lines 26-27)
Comparison of Ambition to a person
The last, whom I love more, the more of blame
The morn was clouded, but no shower fell,
They passd, like figures on a marble urn (line 5)
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