Share

.
.
Ode to Psyche
By John Keats (1795-1821)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
.
Type of Work
Composition and Publication
Source and Background
Theme
Structure
Meter
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Text With Notes
Psyche: a Double Meaning
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Other Keats Odes
Biography of Keats
Index of Study Guides
.
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
.
Type of Work

......."Ode To Psyche" is a romantic ode, a dignified but highly lyrical (emotional) poem in which the author speaks to a person or thing absent or present. In this famous ode, the speaker addresses Psyche, a beautiful princess beloved of Cupid, the god of love. The romantic ode was at the pinnacle of its popularity in the nineteenth century. It was the result of an author’s deep meditation on his subject. 
.......The romantic ode evolved from the ancient Greek ode, written in a serious tone to celebrate an event or to praise an individual. The Greek ode was intended to be sung by a chorus or by one person. The odes of the Greek poet Pindar (circa 518-438 BC) frequently extolled athletes who participated in games at Olympus, Delphi, the Isthmus of Corinth, and Nemea. Bacchylides, a contemporary of Pindar, also wrote odes praising athletes. 
.......The Roman poets Horace (65-8 BC) and Catullus (84-54 BC) wrote odes based on the Greek model, but their odes were not intended to be sung. In the nineteenth century, English romantic poets wrote odes that retained the serious tone of the Greek ode. However, like the Roman poets, they did not write odes to be sung. Unlike the Roman poets, though, the authors of nineteenth-century romantic odes generally were more emotional in their writing. 

Composition and Publication Dates

.......John Keats completed "Ode To Psyche" in 1819. The London firm of Taylor and Hessey published the ode in 1820 as part of a collection entitled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes, and Other Poems.

Source and Background Information

.......Keats derived inspiration for "Ode to Psyche" from the story of Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass, a prose narrative by Lucius Apuleius (AD 124-170). In Books 4 to 6 of The Golden Ass, thieves kidnap a maiden named Charite and take her to their den. When the frightened girl cries ceaselessly, the thieves command a compatriot, an old woman, to pacify her. The old woman then tells Charite the story of Cupid and Psyche.
.......Psyche is a young woman who is so beautiful that the goddess of love, Venus, becomes jealous. She sends her son, Cupid, to earth to use one of his arrows to make her fall in love with a horribly ugly man. Cupid, invisible to human eyes, enters her chamber while she is sleeping. When she awakens, he accidentally pricks his skin instead of hers, causing him to fall in love with her. He then houses her in a palace as his wife but sleeps with her only in the darkness of night. He tells her she must never light a candle, for he does not wish to reveal his identity right away. 
.......Later, her sisters give her bad advice. First, they tell her that her mystery man is really a serpent. Next, they tell her to light a lamp while he is sleeping, then kill the serpent with a knife. After lighting the lamp, she sees Cupid for the first time and accidentally scratches herself with one of his arrows. Falling madly in love with him, she kisses him. Angry that she has disobeyed his instructions, he leaves her. 
.......While searching for him, she encounters Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility. The great deity tells Psyche that she has no chance of finding Cupid unless she petitions Venus, the goddess who sent him to Psyche in the first place. 
.......When Psyche enters a temple dedicated to Venus, the goddess gives her a series of seemingly impossible tasks to perform. But with the help of those who pity her--including a river god--she achieves success. Meanwhile, Cupid can no longer endure separation from his beloved and asks Jupiter for help. The king of the gods then persuades her to stop her scheming against Psyche. He also dispatches Mercury to earth to bring Psyche to the abode of the gods. There, Jupiter gives her the food of the gods, making her immortal, and pronounces Cupid and her eternally tied by the bonds of marriage.

Theme: Glorification of Love

......."Ode to Psyche" glorifies the undying love of Psyche and Cupid and perhaps Keats's love for Fanny Brawne. In the poem, the speaker presents Psyche as an ideal woman who achieves the status of immortal goddess through her love for Cupid. Because she is a newcomer to the abode of the gods, no one has erected a temple or an altar in her honor. She has no choir and 

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. (lines 32-35)
Consequently, says the speaker, he will build a temple to Psyche in his mind and act as her priest. In his mental picture will be mountains, streams, bees, birds, flowers, and a "bright torch, and a casement ope at night, / To let the warm Love in!" (lines 66-67).
.......The passionate language of the poem reflects the passionate love Keats felt for Fanny Brawne, whom he met in 1818. In the spring of 1819, she and Keats became neighbors and several months later pledged to marry. On October 13, 1819, he wrote her a letter from his London residence, 25 College Street. In it, Keats told Miss Brawne that
I cannot exist without you - I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again - my Life seems to stop there - I see no further.  You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving - I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you.  I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. . . .  I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion - I have shudder'd at it - I shudder no more - I could be martyr'd for my Religion - Love is my religion - I could die for that - I could die for you.  My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet - You have ravish'd me away by a Power I cannot resist. (Scudder, Horace E., ed. The Complete Poetical Words and Letters of John Keats. Boston: Houghton, 1899.)
When Keats wrote "Ode to Psyche" and later his letter to Fanny Brawne, he was suffering from a deadly affliction, tuberculosis. Perhaps he intended his ode to immortalize his feelings, just as Jupiter immortalized psyche. 

Structure

.......The poem contains variations in the end rhyme, meter, and per-stanza line count. Keats may have intended the technical irregularities to reflect the skipped heartbeats and emotional ups and downs of passionate love.

Line Count

.......The line count is as follows: first stanza, 23; second stanza, 12; third stanza, 14; and fourth stanza, 18.

Meter

.......Most of the lines in the poem contain ten syllables each. The format in these lines is iambic pentameter. However, at least three lines in each stanza contain six or fewer syllables. The format in these lines is iambic trimeter and, in one instance, iambic dimeter. Following are examples of the metric format.

Iambic Pentameter: Lines 1 and 2
.....1................2.....................3..................4...................5
O GOD..|..dess! HEAR..|..these TUNE..|..less NUM..|..bers, WRUNG

........1..................2..................3................4.................5
By SWEET..|..en FORCE..|..ment AND..|..re MEM..|..brance DEAR
 

Iambic Trimeter: Line 12
.......1...................2..................3
A BROOK..|..let, SCARCE..|..e spied
 

Iambic Dimiter: Line 23
.....1................2
His PSY..|..che TRUE

End Rhyme

.......The end rhyme varies, and no two stanzas are alike in their rhyme schemes. A few final syllables are orphans, having no rhyming partners. Here is the first stanza with rhyming pairs highlighted. Words that do not rhyme are underlined. 

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-conchèd ear
Surely I dream'd to-day, or did I see 5
  The wingèd Psyche with awaken'd eyes
I wander'd in a forest thoughtlessly
  And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd 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;   15
  Their arms embracèd, and their pinions too
  Their lips touch'd not, but had not bade adieu,7
As if disjoinèd by soft-handed slumber
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
  At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:   20
        The wingèd boy I knew
  But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove
      His Psyche true
Internal Rhyme

.......The poem also contains internal rhyme. Here are examples. 

O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung (line 1)
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear (line 2)
SurelyI dream'd to-day, or did I see (line 5)
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof (line 10)
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran (line 11)
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane  (line 50)
And in the midst of this wide quietness (line 58)
And there shall be for thee all soft delight (line 64)
A bright torch, and a casement ope at night (line 66)
Text of the Poem
 
O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers,1 wrung 
  By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear, 
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung 
  Even into thine own soft-conchèd2 ear: 
Surely I dream'd to-day, or did I see 5
  The wingèd Psyche3 with awaken'd eyes? 
I wander'd in a forest thoughtlessly, 
  And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise, 
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd side by side 
  In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof   10
  Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran 
        A brooklet,4 scarce espied: 
'Mid hush'd, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed, 
  Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian5
They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;   15
  Their arms embracèd, and their pinions6 too; 
  Their lips touch'd not, but had not bade adieu,7
As if disjoinèd by soft-handed slumber, 
And ready still past kisses to outnumber8
  At tender eye-dawn of aurorean9 love:   20
        The wingèd boy10 I knew; 
  But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove? 
     His Psyche true!

O latest-born11 and loveliest vision far 
Of all Olympus'12 faded hierarchy! 25
Fairer than Phoebe's sapphire-region'd star,13 
  Or Vesper,14 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 censer15 teeming; 
No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat 
  Of pale-mouth'd prophet dreaming.   35

O brightest! though too late for antique vows,16
  Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,16
When holy were the haunted forest boughs, 
  Holy the air, the water, and the fire; 
Yet even in these days so far retired 
  From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,17
  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 swingèd censer teeming: 
Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat 
  Of pale-mouth'd prophet dreaming.18

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane19 
  In some untrodden region of my mind, 
Where branchèd thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain, 
  Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind: 
Far, far around shall those dark-cluster'd trees 
  Fledge20 the wild-ridgèd mountains steep by steep;   55
And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds, and bees, 
  The moss-lain Dryads21 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, 65
A bright torch, and a casement ope at night, 
To let the warm Love in!


.
.

Notes
.
1.....tuneless numbers: Numbers are lines of poetry (metrical lines, verses). Keats used tuneless to suggest that his poetry was not worthy of the ear or eyes of Psyche. Of course, he well knew otherwise.
2.....conchèd: Shaped like the shell of a clam or an oyster.
3.....Psyche: In Roman mythology, a beautiful princess beloved of Cupid, the god of love. Jupiter, the king of the gods, gave her the gift of immortality.
4.....brooklet: Small brook. 
5.....Tyrian: Purple.
6.....pinions: Sections of wings.
7.....bade adieu: Said goodbye.
8.....ready . . . outnumber: Ready to outnumber the kisses they already gave each other.
9.....aurorean: Having to do with dawn. In Roman mythology, Aurora was the goddess of dawn.
10...wingèd boy: Cupid, the god of love. 
11...latest-born: Psyche was a newcomer in the abode of the gods, a human who joined them after Jupiter conferred on her immortality.
12...Olympus: In ancient mythology, a mountain in Greece that was the home of the gods.
13...Phoebe's . . . star: Probably an allusion to the moon. However, in astronomy, Phoebe is a small satellite of Saturn. The word sapphire is derived from a Greek word meaning dear to Saturn.
14...Vesper: Evening star; the planet Venus.
15...censer: Metal container of burning incense. A priest swings it from a chain to release the fragrant smoke.
16...lyre: Stringed instrument.
17...lucent fans: Wings.
18...pale-mouthed prophet dreaming: The speaker will be not only Psyche's priest but also her temple oracle, or prophet, as he stands transfixed with open mouth.
19...fane: Temple.
20...fledge: Adorn.
21...Dryads: Minor nature goddesses that live in the forest..

Psyche: a Double Meaning

.......Psyche, the name of the young woman glorified in the poem, is also the Greek word for soul. Thus, line 23 (His Psyche true!) has a double meaning: Psyche is Cupid's beloved. And, because he loves her intensely, she is also his soul.

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. (For definitions of figures of speech, click here.)

Alliteration

And pardon that thy secrets should be sung (line 3)
Surely I dream'd to-day, or did I see (line 5)
The wingèd Psyche with awaken'd eyes? (line 6)
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd side by side (line 9)
O latest-born and loveliest vision far (line 24)
Of pale-mouth'd prophet dreaming (line 35)
When holy were the haunted forest boughs (line 38)
I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired (line 43)
Anaphora
Nor altar heap'd with flowers; 
Nor Virgin-choir to make delicious moan (lines 29-30)

No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet (line 32)

No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat (line 34)

Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet (line 46)

Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat (line 48)

With the wreath'd trellis of a working brain, 
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name, 
With all the gardener Fancy e'er could feign (lines 60-62)

Apostrophe
O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers wrung (line 1)
The speaker addresses Psyche.
Assonance
O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung (line 1)
And in the midst of this wide quietness (line 58)
Metaphor
   whisp'ring roof 10
Of leaves and trembled blossoms
Comparison of treetops to a roof

But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove? (line 23)
Comparison of Psyche to a dove

Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky (line 14)
Comparison of Vesper (Evening Star) to a glowworm (beetle that emits light)

Oxymoron/Paradox
pleasant pain (line 52)
Simile
O latest-born and loveliest vision far 
Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy! 
Fairer than Phoebe's sapphire-region'd star (lines 24-26)
Comparison of Psyche to a star
Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Write a short poem on the theme of love.
  • What is the difference between a lyric poem, such as "Ode to Psyche," and a ballad?
  • Write an essay explaining how the events in Keats's life influenced his poetry.
  • Write an essay on Keats's use of nature imagery in "Ode to Psyche." 
.

.