Odal Cycles: Notes on Keats' Odes Pt. 2

Another kind of subsistent cycle visible in the Odes adumbrates an unconventional approach to the odal form itself. The ode, as an established literary genre, is distinguished by a generalized celebratory sense/sensibility; that what an ode assumes as its subject has been chosen for a perceived glory or expansiveness inherent in its being-in-the-world, individualized against all else. The manner in which Keats slants this literary genre creates its own, steady-within-irregularity cycle— from ode to ode, we see the way Keats undermines the conventional processes of apostrophe and assignation, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly. The most unconventional ode, which chafes against its own generic formality with an intense degree of force and discomfort, seems to be Nightingale. Here, the celebratory is inverted into the elegiac; and while Keats’ apostrophes and assignations do celebrate (in a manner of speaking) the happy, “full-throated” freedom of the nightingale’s passages set against his own sickness, isolation, and leaden-eyed despairs, the circle (closed at the poem’s conclusion) of all-encompassing subjective interest, awareness, and stalemated preoccupation girds around him the exclusion of what negatively capable thoughts and motives he could possibly have. The cycle of unpredictability and disregard for generic convention moves with a sharp sense of willful, dark-toned imaginative imposition through the Odes as a definitive thread— that autumn and melancholy are worthy to be celebrated, as are inanimate objects (works of art/utility tools) and “heathen goddesses” from antique cultures. The incredible, well-rounded richness and variable tonal qualities of Keats’ prosody are another thread, which established the Odes’ absolute legitimacy, past their strangeness, odd, stray angles of thematic approach, and contradictory answer to classical voices.