Ode on Melancholy
by John Keats
Ode on Melancholy Theme of Transience
One of the chief causes of sadness in "Ode on Melancholy" is the impermanence of beauty, pleasure, and life. All beauty fades, pleasure is fleeting, and we're all going to bite it someday. But at the same time, we should remember that melancholy is transient, too—pleasure might turn to pain, but the reverse must also be true. Life and death, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain are all very closely linked.
Questions About Transience
- There are a lot of images and metaphors to do with change, transience and impermanence in this poem—some of them are more obvious than others. How many can you find? What do they seem to have in common?
- Why are change and transience so disturbing to the speaker?
- How can the contemplation of changeability and impermanence help us to appreciate our melancholy and to experience it more fully, according to this poem? And why would we want to do that in the first place?
Chew on This
Although most of the poem focuses on the ways that beauty, joy, and pleasure can change into pain and melancholy, the various references to the cycles of nature and of the seasons suggest that pain and melancholy can change back into beauty, joy, and pleasure.
Contemplating the impermanence of beauty and joy help us to appreciate them more while they last; it also serves as an important reminder that melancholy itself is not permanent.