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Ode on Melancholy

Ode on Melancholy


by John Keats

Stanza 3 Summary

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

Lines 21-24

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:

  • The "she" of this line refers back to the "mistress" of the previous stanza.
  • She is beautiful, but someday her beauty will fade. That's right, Shmoopers: your mistress will someday grow old and die, and the speaker of this poem wants us to contemplate that fact.
  • The speaker personifies Beauty when he says that the mistress "dwells with Beauty." Why doesn't he just say that she is beautiful? Why does he make "Beauty" into a kind of roommate that she lives with? 
  • Maybe it's because her beauty isn't permanent—someday it's going to move out, and she's going to be living alone, without her beauty. If he said that she is beautiful, it would seem like her beauty were more permanent.
  • Another personification in the next line: the speaker says that Joy is like a person who blows kisses with his hand at his mouth to say "adieu," or farewell.
  • Yet another personification: Pleasure is "nigh," or nearby, and turns into poison right as you're sipping at it like a bee sips nectar from a flower.

Lines 25-28

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;

  • Fun fact, Shmoopers: "Ay" is the poetic way of saying "yep."
  • Yep, says the speaker, you can be in the midst of pleasure and still find a way to feel melancholy.
  • The speaker uses another metaphor to express this—pleasure or "Delight" is personified as a god. You can be worshiping in the temple of the god Delight, and still find a "shrine" (a holy place) dedicated to Melancholy with a capital M.
  • Note that "sovran" is a contraction of the word "sovereign" to give the word the right number of syllables to fit the meter—check out "Form and Meter" for more on this.
  • But because the shrine to Melancholy is "veiled," or partially hidden, in the temple of Delight, not everyone can see it.
  • Only someone who is able to burst the "grapes of Joy" is able to see how Melancholy is linked with Delight.
  • You might think that a person who always sees something sad in every "temple of Delight" would be a terrible pessimist, but the speaker assures us that the person who can see Melancholy in happy places actually has good taste—they have a "fine palate."

Lines 29-30

His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
          And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

  • The gist here is that the person who understands that melancholy is linked with joy and pleasure will understand the power of melancholy. 
  • And that person's soul will be a "trophy" that melancholy has won. The poem ends on a bit of a sinister note, implying that everyone who experiences melancholy is like some sort of victory of the personified emotion, like a deer head mounted on a wall. 
  • Think of it this way: pleasure and melancholy are linked because nothing that brings you pleasure lasts forever. Beauty is fleeting, after all. And once that beauty or pleasure fades, what's left is grief at its loss—or melancholy.

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