John Keats and "Mad For It"...



Is the music enough? If the point of John Keats' Odal Cycle is to lead the reader back to the vista that the prosody's the thing, can we accept, as we would accept in Bach or Beethoven, that the rich formality of the Odes is its own aesthetic justification and reward? If I can, it is because (as I said) what we accept in Bach and Beethoven we should be able to accept (also) in Keats. What I want to discuss here is that, in Grecian Urn, Keats' stages a demonstration of melopoeia, poetic music, for its own sake, in stanza three, and the achieved "mad for it" effect is clearly meant to be euphoric ecstasy:

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

"You and I are gonna live forever," indeed. To me, stanza three stands as self-conscious mimesis of pagan or tribal spirit, which is angled (as is suggested later in the poem) against cognition and towards the passion and the rapture of purgative, self-expressive celebration (whether in a creative context, as with those who created the urn itself, or not). Ultimately, whether magnificent prosody alone can justify the Odes is an important question, specifically because how you answer is an accurate barometer of how well you do or do not relate to forms and pure formality in major high art consonant art. If form and formal rigor were benched, as from a ball-game, in the twentieth century, it is for a reason few suspect- superior formality in art is just as threatening and dangerous as narrative-thematic levels, both to the unenlightened and to conglomerate groups who would like to subject art to its dictates. It is an expression of extreme and supreme individuality, and as such encourages individuals who are moved by it to attempt to find an individual voice for themselves. This, the twentieth century could not abide. If a significant number of individuals go "mad for it" in the twenty-first, once again the human race, at least in some sectors, can come to terms with the vagaries of individuals who bother to do things for themselves.