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Ode on Melancholy

Ode on Melancholy


by John Keats

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 11-14

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;

  • The first stanza told us what we should not do when we feel melancholy—this stanza tells us what we should do. Finally, some positive, constructive advice.
  • The speaker tells us that when a melancholy mood strikes, it comes down suddenly, like a cloud or a fog dropping from the sky. Boom: sadness.
  • And when that happens, the "weeping cloud" or fog of our melancholy covers up flowers and hides the green grass on the hills.
  • In other words, when we're sad, our bad mood can blind us to the beautiful things around us. Depression can be like a fog that conceals all the pretty stuff. 
  • The word "shroud" is used to describe the way a mist or fog rests on a hillside like a veil, but it's also a word we associate with death—a "shroud" is the cloth that gets wrapped over a dead person at his or her funeral. Adds a rather depressing note to these lines, don't you think?

Lines 15-17

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
     Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
          Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

  • So when that melancholy mood strikes, we're supposed to feed ("glut") our sorrow on beautiful things (like roses), not on the sad emblems of death.
  • Don't go getting too uplifted, though. The beautiful things we're supposed to focus on aren't meant to cheer us up; they're meant to remind us of the impermanence of joy and beauty.
  • "Morning roses" don't last very long before they wilt; the rainbows you see at the beach in salty ocean spray obviously disappear within seconds; and globed peonies, like morning roses, fade and turn brown very soon after they open. 
  • Seems like the speaker wants us to think of beauty and sorrow as being linked together, somehow, because all beauty fades with time. Maybe this is connected to those earlier images of death (the beetle and the death-moth) that are also emblems of resurrection or transformation…

Lines 18-20

Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
     Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
          And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

  • The speaker offers us another way to "feed" our melancholy mood: if our lover (the speaker assumes the reader is male and that his lover, or "mistress," is a woman) is angry, we should let her yell or "rave" at us, and just hold her hand, and contemplate the beauty of her eyes.
  • Yeah, because that always ends a fight.
  • The speaker keeps using the metaphor of "feeding" or "glutting" our melancholy mood. It seems like he wants us to keep the melancholy alive. But why might that be?
  • Maybe this is connected to the end of the first stanza, when he tells us to be wakeful and alert to our melancholy. 
  • What do you think? Why should we "feed" our bad mood, according to this speaker?

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