Poems published in 1820, by John Keats

Ode to Psyche.

O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung

By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,

And pardon that thy secrets should be sung

Even into thine own soft-conched ear:

Surely I dreamt today, or did I see

The winged Psyche with awaken’d eyes?

I wander’d in a forest thoughtlessly,

And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,

Saw two fair creatures, couched side by side

In deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof 10

Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran

A brooklet, scarce espied:

‘Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,

Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,

They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;

Their arms embraced, and their pinions too;

Their lips touch’d not, but had not bade adieu,

As if disjoined by soft-handed slumber,

And ready still past kisses to outnumber

At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love: 20

The winged boy I knew;

But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?

His Psyche true!

O latest born and loveliest vision far

Of all Olympus’ faded hierarchy!

Fairer than Phoebe’s sapphire-region’d star,

Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;

Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,

Nor altar heap’d with flowers;

Nor virgin-choir to make delicious moan 30

Upon the midnight hours;

No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet

From chain-swung censer teeming;

No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat

Of pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.

O brightest! though too late for antique vows,

Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,

When holy were the haunted forest boughs,

Holy the air, the water, and the fire;

Yet even in these days so far retir’d 40

From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,

Fluttering among the faint Olympians,

I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.

So let me be thy choir, and make a moan

Upon the midnight hours;

Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet

From swinged censer teeming;

Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat

Of pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming.

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane 50

In some untrodden region of my mind,

Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,

Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind:

Far, far around shall those dark-cluster’d trees

Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep;

And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds, and bees,

The moss-lain Dryads shall be lull’d to sleep;

And in the midst of this wide quietness

A rosy sanctuary will I dress

With the wreath’d trellis of a working brain, 60

With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,

With all the gardener Fancy e’er could feign,

Who breeding flowers, will never breed the same:

And there shall be for thee all soft delight

That shadowy thought can win,

A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,

To let the warm Love in!

Notes on the Ode to Psyche.

In one of his long journal-letters to his brother George, Keats writes, at the beginning of May, 1819: ‘The following poem — the last I have written — is the first and the only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. I have for the most part dashed off my lines in a hurry. This I have done leisurely — I think it reads the more richly for it, and will I hope encourage me to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy spirit. You must recollect that Psyche was not embodied as a goddess before the time of Apuleius the Platonist, who lived after the Augustan age, and consequently the goddess was never worshipped or sacrificed to with any of the ancient fervour, and perhaps never thought of in the old religion — I am more orthodox than to let a heathen goddess be so neglected.’ The Ode to Psyche follows.

The story of Psyche may be best told in the words of William Morris in the ‘argument’ to ‘the story of Cupid and Psyche’ in his Earthly Paradise:

‘Psyche, a king’s daughter, by her exceeding beauty caused the people to forget Venus; therefore the goddess would fain have destroyed her: nevertheless she became the bride of Love, yet in an unhappy moment lost him by her own fault, and wandering through the world suffered many evils at the hands of Venus, for whom she must accomplish fearful tasks. But the gods and all nature helped her, and in process of time she was reunited to Love, forgiven by Venus, and made immortal by the Father of gods and men.’

Psyche is supposed to symbolize the human soul made immortal through love.

l. 2. sweet . . . dear. Cf. Lycidas, ‘Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear.’

l. 4. soft-conched. Metaphor of a sea-shell giving an impression of exquisite colour and delicate form.

l. 13. ’Mid . . . eyed. Nature in its appeal to every sense. In this line we have the essence of all that makes the beauty of flowers satisfying and comforting.

l. 14. Tyrian, purple, from a certain dye made at Tyre.

l. 20. aurorean. Aurora is the goddess of dawn. Cf. Hyperion, i. 181.

l. 25. Olympus. Cf. Lamia, i. 9, note.

hierarchy. The orders of gods, with Jupiter as head.

l. 26. Phoebe, or Diana, goddess of the moon.

l. 27. Vesper, the evening star.

l. 34. oracle, a sacred place where the god was supposed to answer questions of vital import asked him by his worshippers.

l. 37. fond believing, foolishly credulous.

l. 41. lucent fans, luminous wings.

l. 55. fledge . . . steep. Probably a recollection of what he had seen in the Lakes, for on June 29, 1818, he writes to Tom from Keswick of a waterfall which ‘oozes out from a cleft in perpendicular Rocks, all fledged with Ash and other beautiful trees’.

l. 57. Dryads. Cf. Lamia, l. 5, note.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56