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Themes

There are a lot of poisonous herbs, plants, and wines referenced in "Ode on Melancholy"—always with a big "JUST SAY NO" warning, though. We're not supposed to blunt the edge of our melancholy by abusing alcohol or by taking poison—we're supposed to face it stone cold sober. But is melancholy itself almost like a drug in this poem?

Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

  1. Both wolf's-bane and nightshade are poisonous, but both can also be used medicinally in very tiny doses. Do you think Keats intended the double meaning that we should reject medicine as well as suicide as a way of dealing with melancholy? How can you tell?
  2. Why are we supposed to reject drugs and alcohol, according to the speaker?
  3. Why do you think Keats describes the poisons we're supposed to avoid as being wines ("poisonous wine" in line 2 and "ruby grape" in line 4)?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.


Having studied as an apothecary, Keats was undoubtedly aware of the medicinal properties of both wolf's-bane and nightshade; that means the first stanza is telling us not only to reject suicide, but also to avoid any kind of drug or medicine that would blunt the edge of our melancholy.

By metaphorically describing the poisons as wine in the first stanza, the speaker implies that we should reject the dulling effects of alcohol, as well.

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