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Ode on Melancholy

Ode on Melancholy

by John Keats

Food and Eating

Symbol Analysis

Whether you think about the various poisons listed in the first stanza, the references to "grapes" and wine, or the repetition of words like "glut" and "feed," you have to admit that there's a lot of eating and drinking going on in this poem. Most of this consumption is imagined or metaphorical, it's true, but what's up with all this eating? Was Keats just hungry when he composed this poem? Or is there something deeper afoot?

  • Line 2: The speaker is using a metaphor when he refers to the "poisonous wine" of wolfs-bane. Wolfs-bane is a poisonous herb, but it certainly isn't going to be the hot new thing in wine making.
  • Line 4: Another metaphor, with an allusion to classical Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. The speaker continues the metaphor of poison being like wine that he started in line 2 when he describes poisonous nightshade as being like a "ruby grape." He associated the nightshade with "Proserpine" because Proserpine is the queen of the underworld in classical Greek mythology, and if you drank wine made from nightshade, you'd die and find yourself as the newest inhabitant of Proserpine's kingdom. Referring to the "grape" instead of to wine is an example of synecdoche, or referring to a part of something to represent the whole.
  • Line 15: The speaker advises us to "glut" ourselves on roses. Are we really supposed to eat flowers? Put down your knife and fork, Shmoopers, this is just another metaphor. The speaker personifies the feeling of melancholy here when he says that we should "glut" ourselves on beautiful flowers—he's saying we should feed our bad mood by thinking about how beautiful things won't last.
  • Line 20: Before you start trying to eat your girlfriend's beautiful eyes (gross!), remember that this is just another metaphor. Again, the speaker wants us to "feed" our melancholy by focusing on beautiful things (like our mistress's eyes) that won't last forever. 
  • Line 24: Lots going on here: we have more metaphor when the speaker says that Pleasure is turning into poison, and that repeated "P" sound (a.k.a. alliteration) makes "pleasure" and "poison" seem even more closely associated. 
  • Lines 27-29: The speaker says that the only people who can see how closely pleasure and melancholy are linked are the folks who can burst "Joy's grapes" in their mouth with their tongue. Yes, you guessed it—that's a metaphor. We're not talking about literal grape-squishing. Grapes are sweet, but their sweetness doesn't last forever. The reference to grapes also refers back to the poisonous "grapes of Proserpine" from back in line 4. Seems like any food or drink in this poem looks tasty and pleasant (wine! grapes! "glutting" ourselves on roses!), but then turns out to be poisonous, sad, or wilty. Watch what you eat in this poem, Shmoopers.

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