Happy Thursday! It is my pleasure to introduce to you our guest blogger for today my stepbrother David Maldonado; blogger at A Writer’s Whimsical Alcove. Check out his blog when you get a chance. This is a piece he wrote for World Poetry Day which is on March 21.
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty–Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
I first read this poem during my Romantic Novels class during my Undergraduate time in college. This was a time where literature spoke about gothic elements, the sublime, and really upped the dramatics in both poetry and novels. I remember being very intrigued during the class discussion.
As we know, wolfsbane and nightshade are poisonous plants. Both of which, I’ve read about in plenty of modern day YA novels. Yew-berries are a symbolism of death. It gets even more morbid when Keats discusses the “beetle”, which is basically a replica of the large black beetle that Egyptians used in tombs to symbolize resurrections. You’ve probably seen this in Egyptian themed movies, the one that instantly comes to mind for me is The Mummy, (loved those movies by the way).
Keats also uses the word “psyche”, which during ancient times was believed to be the “soul”. It was often represented as a butterfly or a moth, which fluttered out of the mouth of someone dying. Deeply morbid, but in a very poetic kind of way. The symbolism in this poem is what really struck home for me.
Let me go even deeper with Keats poem. On line 10 Keats is talking about how sorrow needs a contrast to sustain it’s intensity. Keats is elucidating to us on how to cope with sadness. His first stanza tells us what we should not do. The sufferer should not go to the “Lethe”, which in Greek Mythology refers to the forgetfulness river. In other words, we should not forget our sadness. This may sound weird, but let me elaborate a bit more.
By mentioning wolfsbane and nightshade, he’s advising us to not to give into thoughts of suicide. His uses of the death objects such as: the beetle, death-moth, and owl, is a warning to not to become fixated on death. If we were to become fixated on death and on our thoughts of suicide, this would make our soul, drowsy. We have to always be alert to our own suffering, and we must avoid dulling our pain and stop ourselves from becoming “numb”.
In his second stanza, Keats is telling us that instead of forgetting our sadness and succumbing to our fixation of death, which he advises us not to do, we should instead, overwhelm ourselves with natural beauty. He depicts natural beauty by writing words and phrases like, “morning rose” and “rainbow of the salt sand-wave”. Basically, immerse yourself in the sublime.
And finally, in Keats last stanza he informs us that beauty and pain go hand in hand. “Beauty must die”, that the flower of pleasure is forever. Keats insinuates that our shrine to melancholy is inside the “temple of delight”, but we can’t see it unless we overwhelm ourselves with joys until we can reach that sadness.
I’m still so amazed and in love with this poem. He brilliantly analyses the dichotomy between joys and sadness, or better put, melancholy. We can’t understand one without the other. In order to reach and understand our sadness, we must take a look at the joys that the world has to offer us. We can’t dwell on being sad too much, because it will tip that balance and push us to think of thoughts of death and suicide. Our moments of joy from the natural beauties of the world, help us to be able to cope with our sadness and understand it from a better state of mind.
I just want to thank John Keats for speaking to my soul with this poem. It put my depressive moments into perspective, and it gave me hope.
Thank you everyone for taking the time out to read about one of my favorite poets and my analyses of his work, and what it means to me.
I just want to take this moment to thank David from A Writer’s Whimsical Alcove for guest posting today and hopefully he will do it again. See you next Thursday everyone.