Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ode to Psyche: A Critical Analysis

Ode to Psyche: A Critical Analysis:


With reference to Ode to Psyche, Keats himself said in a letter to his brother:

“It is the first and only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. I have, for the most part, dashed off my lines in hurry”

Though it was written in hurry, it is Keats’ one of the most perfect piece of poetic creations. Here the poet revives and recreates the Psyche myth from Greek mythology. According to the Greek mythology, Psyche was a beautiful nymph loved by Cupid, god of love. He visited her each night, but departed at sunrise. Psyche was told never to attempt to discover his identity, but her curiosity won out. One night she lit a lamp to see him. But some of the burning oil dropped upon him. Awakened angry at being disobeyed, he left her. Psyche wandered helplessly in search of her lover and became the slave of Venus who imposed cruel tasks on her. Eventually she was reunited with Cupid and made immortal. Because of her late arrival on Olympus, as Keats observed, she was never honoured and worshiped in the way of other gods. He also explained in the same letter that Psyche was not regarded as a goddess before the time of Apuleius, who lived after the Augustan age, and that the goddess was never worshiped with any of the ancient fervour. Keats did not wish to let a heathen goddess remain neglected. He therefore wrote this poem as a tribute to her and attempted to restore her place among the gods and goddesses.

            The poem begins with an invocation to Psyche apologizing for singing to her of herself:
           “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”

Then the poet describes that in a vision he has seen Psyche and Cupid embracing each other in an idyllic surrounding in a forest. They sat beneath “ the whispering roof of leaves and trembled blossoms.” A brook, hardly visible, because of the thick grass that grows on its bank, ran by them. Amidst the deep grass and soft and fragrant flowers, they were found in an intimate moment:
         “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;”

Then the poet praises Psyche’s beauty abundantly. He says that her beauty is unparalled among the Greek gods and goddesses living in mount Olympus. She surpasses both Lucifer and Vesper in beauty. Yet no tributes or offerings are made to her. The poet pleads the goddess to allow him to take the role of her priest. He will create a shrine for her within his own mind. He imagines his mind to be a forest with ‘zephyrs’, ‘streams’, ‘birds’, and ‘bees’. Here he will build a temple which will be decked with roses which signify his verses. A bright torch will be kept burning in the temple and one of its windows will be left open to let her to come at late night.
            The ode has often been seen as an extended metaphor about poetry, a reading that can be supported by an analysis of the development of ideas in relation to structure. Keats restores and recreates the forgotten Psyche myth twice in this poem and these recreations occurs within the two tableaux which frame the ode. When the poet asks, “Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see/ The winged Psyche with awaken'd eyes”, he introduces the first recreation. Here she is represented in a mythological past world, a forest bower,  a place exterior to the passive poet’s mind and accessible by dream or vision. The second recreation occurs when he vows to be her priest. Here she is more consciously and artfully recreated within the bower of poet’s mind and brought into the present. The movement from one tableaux to another is complemented by a change from the language of erotic experience to the language of aesthetic experience. The first lush natural setting is firmly anchored in sense impressions while the description in the final tableaux is too consciously artful. There is movement from the warm language of physical love to the cooler language of religious formality. Thus the poem illustrates the process of poetic creation – from sensation to sublimity. Some critics have seen this ode as an allegory of soul which has not been recognized until modern times.

            The ode is typically Keatsian for being utterly sensual in nature. It contains plenty of sensual and synaesthetic images. The description of pastoral landscape in which Cupid and Psyche spend their blissful moment is richly sensuous. Different expressions like - ‘Whispering roof of leaves’, ‘cool-rooted’ and ‘fragrant-eyed’ flowers, and ‘bedded grass’ appeal to our different senses.

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