English Literature » Notes » Keats’ “Ode on Indolence” – A Weaker Ode

Keats’ “Ode on Indolence” – A Weaker Ode

Ode on Indolence” is the weakest of all his poems because it lacks negative capability. There is no logical sequence in its stanzas. There is repetition of the ideas of Keats’ previous odes i.e. “Ode on Grecian Urn”, “Ode to Nightingale” and “Ode to Autumn”.

Keats wrote this poem in his weakest moments of life. One of his brothers died, other left him. Besides, he was also suffering from inherited disease and on top of all his love Fanny Browne deserted him. He was disappointed in his ambition to be famous, disappointed in love and disappointed in his art of writing poetry and finally disappointed with life. He seems to be crying in helplessness. Instead of self-control, he depicted self-pity.

The poet is in a mood of perfect indolence. Three figures happened to pass from his sight – Love, Ambition and Poesy. At the third time, the poet is tempted by them and longs for them but he thinks it his folly. At the fourth time, the three figures once again tempted him but now the reality has dawned upon him. Therefore, he bid them adieu.

The poet is feeling asleep. He has lost all his faculties. Pain has ceased to be unpleasant and pleasure has ceased to be pleasant to him. He has become very indifferent to these feelings.

Pain had no sting, and pleasure’s wreath no flower;

The very sleepy moment of falling asleep has captured him. His mind is sleeping but not his senses. He is neither receptive nor productive. The only feelings he wants to have are no feelings.

The poem is very much subjective and reflects the poet’s extreme hopelessness and disappointment. He reaches the climax of emotions and wants to withdraw from Love, Ambition and Poetry.

O folly! What is love? and where it is?
And for that poor Ambition! it springs
From a man’s little heart’s short fever-fit;
For Poesy! — no — she has not a joy.

When he wants to withdraw from emotions, he wants to withdraw from the world. When he wants to withdraw from love, he wants to give up both lover and beloved. When he wants to withdraw from poetry, he wants to give up all imagination. Now he is contended with his “horrid indolence”.

In rest of his odes, there is element of negative capability. In Keats’ own words “Poetry should be the outcome of the negative capability”. As in “Ode to Nightingale”, he negates himself and wants to fly with the nightingale.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Similarly in “Ode on Grecian Urn” he escapes into the world of art and says:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Whereas in “Ode on Indolence”, he is wailing for his personal emotions and unable to practice his own theory of negative capability.

This poem has repetition of earlier poems. When one’s creative faculties fail, one starts repeating oneself. Same is true to Keats in this ode. He borrows ideas from earlier poems as his genius has been exhausted.

Apart from this, the poem is not only weak with regard to content but also in the form. There is not logical sequence in the stanzas. The poem is divided into three distinct parts: narrative, descriptive and reflective. As in the first stanza, there is narrative quality.

One morn before me were three figures seen,
With bowed necks, and joined hands, side-faced;

Then in the middle of the poem, there is descriptive quality.

The first was a fair Maid, and Love her name;
The second was Ambition, pale of cheek,
The last, whom o love more, the more of blame
I know to be my demon Poesy.

The last part of the poem has a reflective quality:

Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and never more return!

The word ‘never’ reflects the determination that these three passions – Love, Ambition and Poetry.

Keats’ odes have been changed with that they do not have any logical end as in “Ode on Grecian Urn” and “Ode on Indolence”. But if we critically observe, to Keats the understanding through intellect is partial understanding. He rejects all palpable designs. He rejects all understanding and all logics and long for sensation.

“O! for a life of sensation rather than of thought”

On another occasion, he says:

“We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us.”

But this poem has aesthetic continuity from first to last.

Above premises leads us to the conclusion that though poem has repetition earlier poems, it lacks negative capability and logical sequences of stanzas yet it has a definite of aesthetic feelings.

So, the ode on the whole is not a weak ode. It has its aesthetic merits.

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