Ode To Psyche
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John Keats led a short, tormented life marked by great despair, obsessive and unconsummated love, and apparent poetic failure. Nonetheless and perhaps on account of this, he has since become possibly the most memorable and resounding poet of the Romantic period. The Romantic poets felt there was a harmony between the human mind and the outside world based on an understanding of a plane of one life, running through nature and humanity. Keats uses the winged Psyche as a symbol to describe his longing to identify the soul through the use of mythology and sensual imagery. Ð²Ð‚ÑšOde to PsycheÐ²Ð‚Ñœ is important as a stepping-stone piece, as the poem that squared away all his conflicting emotions and rose victoriously out of disillusionment and desperation to make sense of his pain. It tied up the loose ends of a very dark stage of his life, an amazing feat of finding peace among paradox, and cleared the slate for the rebirth of inspiration, with a vengeance.
The first way that Keats describes his longing to identify the soul is through mythology. Keats introduces his reader to the goddess Psyche in the opening lines of the ode, Ð²Ð‚ÑšO Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung / By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (Keats 847). In a footnote, Keats reveals that Psyche was a mortal who was wedded to Cupid and translated to heaven as an immortal. In Kris SteyaertÐ²Ð‚™s article, Ð²Ð‚ÑšPoetry as Enforcement: Conquering the Muse in KeatsÐ²Ð‚™s Ð²Ð‚?Ode to PsycheÐ²Ð‚™,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ he makes the statement that Ð²Ð‚Ñšthe Cupid-Psyche myth may have appealed to Keats because it occasioned a candid gesture of self-definition and a search for a well-developed identityÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (6). I agree with SteyeartÐ²Ð‚™s theory to the extent that I believe Keats uses the myth of Psyche to convey his own search for identity. In the Cupid-Psyche myth, Psyche endures many tribulations in order to be with her immortal lover. After all of this, Psyche is not even recognized as a goddess until after the time of Apuleius the Platonist, and consequently she was never worshipped or admired as she should have been (Motion 386).
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant Pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind (50-53)
In an untrodden region of his mind, unspoiled and fresh, Keats is giving himself completely to whatever this new view on life has in store for him. His branched thoughts reflect the branching away of his vale of soul-making philosophy from the Christian vale of tears. Changing the concept from one in which only Christ can save you from the world of pain and suffering to one in which the grief is necessary for the creation of a soul allowed Keats just the sort of independence and resolution he needed to reinvest himself in poetry. He was thenceforth able to find the peaceable and healthy spirit he was searching for with which he wished to create his poems. Pain had even become pleasant.
The poem becomes a parallel to KeatsÐ²Ð‚™ life because his whole life he struggled to find a place within the world of poetry where he would be accepted and admired. In lines 36-37 of the ode, Keats reflects that it is too late to properly pay homage to his goddess by saying, Ð²Ð‚ÑšO brightest! though too late for antique vows, / Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (Keats 848). Keats sees the myth of Psyche as a failure, just as he sees himself as a failure. Although I agree with SteyaertÐ²Ð‚™s notion that Keats uses Psyche to convey his own search for identity, he goes on to say that, Ð²Ð‚ÑšKeats strips Psyche of all individuality she could possibly possess. As a consequence, it is she, and not the poet, who is forced into female passivityÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (Steyaert 4). I disagree with this statement because Steyaert is trying to convey the idea that Keats Ð²Ð‚ÑšlocksÐ²Ð‚Ñœ Psyche up in his brain as some sort of act of male possessiveness. I believe that Keats says that he will build a place for her in his mind because he knows that she has been ignored as a goddess. If no one else will pay homage