Ode to Psyche by John Keats: Summary and Analysis

Ode to Psyche is a tribute to the Greek goddess Psyche, with whom Cupid fell in love. With her devotion to Cupid and her stoic tolerance, she overcame the jealousy of his mother Venus and was taken to heaven and finally changed into a deity. The myth symbolizes the purification of human intellect into soul and the elevation of love to divinity.

John Keats (1795-1821)

After addressing to Psyche, Keats entreats to her to listen to his tuneless music of sweet remembrance. But he needs her pardon because he is telling her secrets, even if it is to herself. He says he has dreamt of her and Cupid, but he is not sure whether it was a daydream. Anyway, it was a vision of reality – which can fairly be called a moment of Keatsian imaginative intensity, in which the real and ideal, objective and subjective, factual and fanciful reconcile. Then the dream takes the form of an elaborate scene. Wondering in a forest, in a careless dreamy mood, the poet says he almost fainted with surprise on seeing two lovers lying in the grass under a roof of whispering leaves. It seemed as if a soft sleep had interrupted their kissing, and they would resume it when they woke.

The Psyche was the latest born of all the Greek gods and goddesses and so she was neglected. Regretting the lot of such a paragon of true and spiritual love, Keats pays homage to her. There is no temple dedicated to her, no altar heaped with flowers, no of virgins to sing her sweet hymns, no lute or pipe, no sweet choir incense, no shrine, no grove, no oracle and no priest to worship her in a trance. This post-Augustan goddess missed deification, but is not less deserving of it than any others.

Therefore, the poet offers to become her priest himself, build her a shrine in the deep recesses of his own mind, deck flowers of verses before her, and let his fancy be the gardener of that symbolic garden of spiritual love where the wind and streams, and birds and bees will lull the Dryads to sleep. The poet's fancy will produce an endless variety of flowers, which means verses. His creative imagination is even more fertile than an ordinary garden. Such a garden, which is the fountain of imagination, will be left open for the deity forever.

To build Psyche's temple on the ground of imagination is to wield thoughts and feelings to create a world of visionary significance in the name of spiritual passion. It is also to widen consciousness which carries the dual capacity for pleasure and for pain. The thoughts that will grow like branches will be grown to develop the poet's capacity to face pleasure and pang. The goddess to whom this temple is to be built is brought from her native unreality into the reality of the imagination. The goddess as well as her temple and the garden are vivid to the mind's eye and real only to the imagination. The poem embodies Keats' struggle to justify the claims and the validity of visionary experience. This visionary realm is against the dangers of logic but is sustained by the recognition of insight, visionary ecstasy, creative mood, and psychological reality. The myth may be charged with what is called anthropomorphism by those who do not understand its significance, but the significance lies in our realization and experience of the ideal, the spiritual and imaginative phenomena.

To Keats, myths were symbols of imaginative myths are psychologically true; Keats has projected his dreams and wishes while universalizing the issue. Thus the ode is not merely a Piece of devotion to an obsolete goddess, but a recognition of the poet's own vision. The vivid imagery of the poem is neither simply mythical nor merely objective; it is a symbol of the poet's world of imagination. Keats promises to build a temple to Psyche in an 'unexplored region' on his own mind. His thoughts will grow like branches of trees and will help him'" experience pain and pleasure. He will serve as her priest and choir. His fancy will be the gardener and his verses will be the flowers in the garden. Such a garden and temple will be thrown open for the deity of love and emotion.

Psyche symbolizes the 'soul' in the old sense of 'the sum total of human consciousness', of which imagination is the most important component in Keats. Keats' intention is to glorify the imagination which is a means of approaching the immortal world by breaking through the bonds of the transient and the finite. Imagination would also bridge the gaps between worldly passion and the spiritual love exemplified by the Greek goddess. The poet would preserve his vision from the withering touch of actuality by entering into a visionary stance and actualizing his imaginative attachment with the symbol of preternatural love.

The significance of the myth is central to Keats' understanding of the human situation. His system of soul making is the parent of all 'schemes of redemption' in all religions. In his speculations, Psyche has the same degree of reality and unreality as, “their Christ, their Oromanes and their Vishnu". All myths and religions are philosophical and psychological reality. Figures drawn from religious myths may be understood sympathetically as personifications of certain kinds of human needs or self-knowledge. To Keats, Christianity was simply the last of great mythologies. He felt that people must have "the palpable and named Mediator and Savior". Gods or goddesses in every religion or mythologies are metaphors or symbols of human desires, virtues and insight. They are real to the extent where such symbols hold as symbols of reality. Keats has worked his way through to a theoretical acceptance of the value of visions and imaginative experience.

 Myth, commonly conceived to be the opposite of reality, is here treated as complementary to it because the essence or truth of life experience partakes both. Myths are created by human imagination and are as real as the ideal world of imagination Keats has created in the poem. The shrine of love "in some untrodden region of my mind." (Line 51), is a place "where experimental philosophy or the sciences of matter would rumble as harmlessly as distant thunder". In the landscape of his vision, which is the land of imagination, music' love and feelings, Keats preserves the visionary poetic experience from marauding analysis of scientific reasoning. The gardeners' creative reverie antithetically opposed to the matter-of-fact operations of scientific logic is one that everyone, epiphany in real life itself. Keats shares the experience of Cupid and Psyche as if it were one of his own acquaintances.

In fact, "Keats was living next door to Fanny Brawne in April 1819 and probably kept an eye on her window when it was lit at night. Keats is vicariously gratifying a natural wish". It is his 'Negative Capability' to forget his own tragic love affair and celebrate the epitome of love of mythical characters and feel in their love the reality in his vision.

The complex image in the poem is an equivalent of a mental state. "Calculation, anxiety and deliberate activity are shut out . . . . Love, poetry and indolence are the natural medicines of the soul against the living death, it must expect from cold philosophy". The landscape symbolizes a mood and the situation a stance in which poetry provides delight and meaning to them. This luxurious sanctuary sustains love and spiritual experiences with the infinite resources of poetic imagination. The myth, thus brought into the realm of imagination, gets a rich implication of imaginative reality. It must, therefore, find a symbolic interpretation and it is imaginatively experienced and recreated as it was imaginatively created.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Ode to Psyche by John Keats: Summary and Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 2 Aug. 2017, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/ode-to-psyche.html.