Ode to Melancholy: Language, tone and structure

Language and tone in Ode to Melancholy

The Ode to Melancholy is less personal in tone than the Ode to a Nightingale: significantly the word ‘I’ does not appear in the poem. The tone is more didactic, more instructional, than the Ode on a Grecian Urn. The first and second stanzas turn on imperative verbs. In the first stanza they are negative: ‘go not’, followed by ‘Nor suffer’, ‘Make not’ and ‘Nor let’. The second stanza then continues this tone with active commands: ‘Then glut’, ’Emprison’, ‘let’ and ’feed’.
The poem’s tone is also generated by the paradoxical nature of much of the poem, especially its second stanza. The image of the April shower is ‘weeping’ and like a ‘shroud’ at the same time as it revitalises the wilting flowers. Similarly the verb ‘glut’, which normally has the negative connotations of excessive greed or lust, is here attached to ‘morning rose’, ‘rainbow’ etc.

Investigating language and tone in Ode to Melancholy

  • Why is the word ‘glut’ (line 15) more effective in its context than ‘nourish’ or ‘feed’ would be?
  • Pick out language which appeals to each of the human senses and explain the effect it has.
  • Do you agree that the tone of the poem is less personal than that of some of the other odes? 
    • What are the linguistic features which give this ode its particular tone?
  • Look at the imperative verbs which Keats uses in stanzas 1 and 2. How do they affect the poem’s tone?

Structure and versification in Ode to Melancholy

The ode’s structure is visible in its three-stanza form. The opening stanza energetically states what the melancholic should not do. The second stanza provides the antidote to melancholy and in the final stanza Keats explains the advice given in the second stanza: pleasure and pain are inextricably mixed.
This ode is the shortest that Keats wrote. It has a very regular form, each stanza being ten lines long and written in iambic pentameter. The first two stanzas, offering advice to the sufferer, follow the same ababcdecde rhyme scheme; the third, which explains the advice has a slightly difference rhyme scheme: ababcdedce. Notice how the initial quatrains of each stanza present the stanza’s theme and how the final sestets develop each idea.

Investigating structure and versification in Ode to Melancholy

  • Some readers have felt that the structure of the poem suggests the testing and resolution of an argument. Do you think this is a valid view? 
    • If so, what part does each stanza play in the exposition, development and resolution of the argument?
  • The poem deals with contradictions. Are they reconciled at the end – or is the ode open-ended?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.