No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
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;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
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:
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;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
*Please see below my summary and thoughts:
No, no, go not to Lethe,
Keats opens the poem telling the reader not to go to Lethe. This was one of the many rivers of Hades in Greek mythology. The dead are obliged to drink from this in order to forget their thoughts, their words, and all aspects of their life while they were alive. He is telling us not to turn to suicide, even though we suffer from sadness and pain, because it is surely better to live through this than to be in complete oblivion. Keats also advises the reader not to numb the feeling of depression with poison or drugs.
He talks about how it is better to acknowledge melancholy, and even to feed it. He describes melancholy as a ‘weeping cloud’. I feel that he is saying that melancholy nourishes the soul, just like the rain, which revives the drooping flowers. So we should allow ourselves to cry and feel sadness so we can feel revived and move forward with a stronger spirit.
You’ll notice in the last verse that Keats personifies beauty, melancholy, pleasure, and joy (look for the capital letters). He has given these feelings a god/goddess quality and say’s that Melancholy reside in the temple of Delight. An odd place to put Melancholy, perhaps, but he is trying to make the reader see that one should delight in melancholy. He states that she (Melancholy) dwells with Beauty, and that Joy’s soul shall also taste her might. Keats goes on to say that we all know that Beauty dies; that Joy leaves; and that Pleasure can turn to poison. They are forever changing in us. But all are necessary, because, for us to taste great joy, we must understand sorrow. One cannot exist without the other.
This poem transcends Keats’s existence; it is still relatable today. He has given us a good lesson here. Melancholy is something we should acknowledge and enjoy; allow ourselves to become her victim, find pleasure in her and treat it as a test. Don’t end your life. Your existence is important, even if others cannot see that or this world makes you feel you aren’t worthwhile. You are. We must seek beauty and joy in Melancholy, and understand she will come and go in life.
So, use her, as Keats did and many other artist do. Use her. Create something from her. She is shown at her most radiant through poetry, music, and art.