This quote exemplifies Keats' respect for, and even encouragement of, the melancholy state as a means of fully experiencing beauty. Rather than shy away from melancholy, one should embrace it as a prism through which to see the world more fully. This example is yet another instance of Keats's use of paradox: here, it is through suffering that one experiences pleasure.
"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 should murmur in the wind..."
"And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreath'd trellis of a working brain,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name."
Here Keats evokes the beauty of the world of the imagination. The narrator offers to build a "fane" (temple) to Psyche, but rather than using natural phenomena, he will use "branched thoughts" and "the wreath'd trellis of a working brain." This is arguably even better than building a physical temple, since the world of the imagination can involve "the ideal," a property fit for an otherworldly goddess.
"When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know."
This is a famous and highly contested excerpt. Here, "Thou" refers to the Grecian urn, whom the narrator addresses directly. Yet it has not been settled whether or not the adage, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," is meant ironically. In any case, these lines conclude a poem dedicated to the narrator's struggle to reconcile his life in the imperfect, mortal world with the idealized life illustrated on an ancient Grecian urn.
"Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies..."
"Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."
Keats is encouraging readers not to overlook the "music" of autumn in favor of the (arguably more lively) songs of spring. The songs of autumn are imbued with a certain melancholy, though: gnats "mourn" in a "wailful" choir (perhaps anticipating the advent of winter), and the light wind "lives or dies," calling forth Keats' poetic preoccupation with mortality. The ode itself ends on a typically melancholic note: the bird imagery may be construed as hopeful, but the "gathering swallows" are preparing for the toils of migration.
"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."
"She," in the opening line here, may refer to the narrator's mistress, or to melancholy itself. Despite such different possibilities, this passage is one of the clearest demonstrations of Keats' Romantic vision of pleasure and joy. Joy is ever "bidding adieu" and pleasure is, by nature, "aching." Yet positive and negative emotions such as joy and melancholy are mutually dependent; one cannot exist without the other.
"Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of Poesy:
Let us inspect the Lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
By ear industrious, and attention meet..."
The narrator here, chagrined that formal poetic structures such as the sonnet must be observed, would like to find a form of poetry that is more natural. He suggests composing poetry as one composes music, to "weigh the stress of every chord." Only in this way will a more natural poetic order come into being.
"No -- yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever -- or else swoon to death."
Here the narrator, after having described an initial wish to be "stedfast" like a star, changes his mind. Instead, he would prefer to stay perpetually in the sweet situation of lying with his love. His highly emotional romantic nature, though, could overtake and undermine him in this situation: he could "swoon to death."
"Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
And for the day faint visions there is store;
Vanish, ye Phantoms! from my idle spright,
Into the clouds, and never more return!"
The narrator addresses the three figures of Love, Ambition, and Poesy (Poetry), wishing that they would leave him alone. He would prefer, instead, to rest in a state of pleasure and abandon. However, the language that the narrator uses points to the active creative energy that is present in him even in a state of purported "indolence."
"At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature... I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."
Keats believed that "negative capability" -- the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty, to "receive" phenomena without trying to place them into a preexisting philosophical or logical context -- was one of the most important strengths an artist could have. To build upon this analysis, Keats uses Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge as a counter-example, as someone who would let a "fine verisimilitude" -- a fine truth -- slip by because he was preoccupied with the pursuit of total knowledge.
"We no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere...and think of delaying there for ever in delight: However, among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of Man -- of convincing ones nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness, and oppression -- whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken'd and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open -- but all dark -- all leading to dark passages..."
Keats here describes intellectual life as "a Mansion of many apartments." The first room (chamber) introduces a "Thoughtless" state which is initially pleasing; soon enough, though, curiosity brings one to the second chamber. Here, one learns about human strife, and thereafter has difficulty navigating life's "mystery." In discussing these ideas, Keats uses Romantic poet William Wordsworth as an example of someone who had passed through the second chamber and continued on to explore the "unknown."
Keats’ Poems and Letters Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Keats’ Poems and Letters is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.