Study Guide

Ode on Indolence Introduction

By John Keats

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Ode on Indolence Introduction

John Keats was the James Dean of poetry.

If you haven't heard of James Dean, we'll give you the run-down: He was a famous young movie star in the 1950s, known for his ferocious talent, bad-boy appeal, and Hollywood good looks.

He was also known for dying in a tragic car accident just before his 25th birthday. He died at the peak of his fame, and was immortalized forever on screen and in photographs.

John Keats was also something of a superstar, at least, among Romantic poets. Before he turned 25, he had written some of the most controversially brilliant poems ever written. Famous poets like Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley recognized his genius early on, and helped him make official entrance into the world of poetry...

…. a world that was shocked and saddened when, at age 25, he died from tuberculosis. Like Dean's, Keats's death was mourned as incredibly tragic. And, like Dean, he's been immortalized. Fellow Romantic Shelley composed the very-long Adonais, and there's definitely been a film or two about the poet and his legacy.

Before his death, though, he managed to compose plenty of poems, including six Great Odes. One, "Ode on Indolence," showed just how well he understood the plight of his fellow man. It's a celebration of laziness, of the pleasures of remaining idle and ignoring the busy world outside.

It seems that even one of the world's most famous poets would rather just hang out and stare at clouds. He's tempted by his own ambition, by his own talent, and even by love, but in the end… laziness wins.

At least, that's what the speaker says. When put into context with Keats' other Great Odes—which pay tribute to seasons, feelings, and even urns—we can see that this is but one facet of a poet's deep inner world.

He was a poet, as it turns out, who was anything but lazy.

What is Ode on Indolence About and Why Should I Care?

If you could spend your day doing anything, what would it be?

Skydiving? Rock climbing? Composing a complex love sonnet to your crush? Going in early to work to make some extra money?

How about sitting somewhere cozy, enjoying a whole lot of relaxing nothingness?

Chances are that, on your days off from the demands of the world, you would prefer to do something chill and unchallenging. And if you had all the money the world and didn't need to work, you'd probably do a whole lot of nothing… all the time.

After all, who wakes up early and goes to work or school for fun?

John Keats gets it. He, too, would rather sit outside on a beautiful summer day and do some cloud-gazing and day-dreaming. He knew the pleasures of sleeping in late and ignoring the busy world. And if he had his druthers, he'd do little else.

"Ode on Indolence" is his tribute to pleasures of laziness. Throughout the poem, he describes the numbness that happens when you avoid anything too extreme or exciting, like love, or ambition, or even the talents you are given (in his case: writing poetry).

But is that so wrong?

In the end, the poem reads like a sincere ode to the pleasures of sloth, and maybe even an excuse to hit the snooze button rather than get up and write. But is he telling you to sleep late and blow off your day job? That, dear reader, is up to you.

Ode on Indolence Resources


The Life of Keats
He only lived to be 25, but still managed to have quite a story.

His Work
He didn't just write odes. Check out Keats's other works here.

His Letters
Here's a collection of Keats's letters, some of which are romantic, and some of which contain poetic conceptions now considered to be genius.


Lookin' Good
Keats, posing for a portrait.

Grecian Urn
Here's an urn, much like the one the speaker references.

Articles and Interviews

Negative Capa….what?
This article is all about the famous concept of negative capability, one Keats was first to put to words.

Keats and the Sublime
This is all about how Keats's Great Odes confronted life, death, and immortality.


The Complete Poems
Get all the Keats you can handle.

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