Ode on Melancholy
by John Keats
Resurrection and New Life
Don't assume that "Ode on Melancholy" is all doom and gloom. Just because Keats wants us to know that pleasure and melancholy are closely linked doesn't mean that there's no possibility for hope. Because if pleasure can turn to melancholy, doesn't that mean that the reverse is true, too? Wherever there's death in this poem, the speaker often hints at the possibility of new life or resurrection through his choice of symbols and metaphors.
- Line 4: Proserpine is the queen of the Underworld in classical Greek mythology, but she's also the daughter of Demeter (the goddess of fertility and growing things). She only hangs out in the underworld with dead people for half of the year. In the springtime, Proserpine returns to earth and plants start growing again. So the mention of Proserpine is an allusion both to death and to the underworld, but also a suggestion of the possibility of new life to follow.
- Line 5: By using the metaphorical image of a "rosary of yew-berries," the speaker alludes to the Christian (specifically Catholic) rite of reciting prayers on rosary beads. And when a poet makes a reference to Christianity, the idea of resurrection and new life is often not far from their minds. So this image could be meant to suggest that although the yew-berries are poisonous, there's still a possibility of new life somewhere.
- Line 6: The speaker uses more metaphor when he tells us that we shouldn't allow ourselves to become obsessed with traditional symbols of death and mourning like the beetle or the death-moth (a.k.a. the death's-head moth). But these traditional symbols of death can also be associated with resurrection or new life: the scarab beetle was placed in tombs in ancient Egypt, but that's because they were thought to be important to the process of resurrection. The death-moth might be creepy and associated with death because of the skull-like shape on its back, but moths and caterpillars are also associated with resurrection because of the way that a caterpillar transforms into a moth or butterfly.