The relation between the real and the ideal in the odes of John Keats
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The great odes--"Ode to Psyche, " "Ode to a Nightingale, " "Ode on a Grecian Urn, " "Ode on Melancholy, " and "To Autumn"--were written in the year 1819, when Keats was approaching his imminent death from tuberculosis. In the odes, the poet presents conflicts, paradoxes, oxymorons, and dualities, the resolution of which is essential in approaching and understanding one of the main themes of the odes, the relation between the real and the Ideal. Once the conflicts are resolved, the reader would be able to understand the main ideas and views presented in each ode and would be able to trace Keats's development as a poet. Keats's early experiences play an important role in his choice of themes, and it is reasonable to associate the main themes--the transitoriness of life and beauty, the inevitability of change and death, and the relation between the physical and the spiritual--with the different events of the poet's childhood and adulthood. To cite an instance, the death of his parents, and later that of his brother, as well as his love relation with Fanny Brawne, influenced him deeply. To Keats, life is a series of complementary contradictions which are functions of each other; thus, he never overlooks the real in order to reach the ideal. In the earlier odes- "Ode to Psyche, " "Ode to a Nightingale, " and "Ode on a Grecian Urn"--the poet tries to combine the real and the ideal realms because one has liveliness and the other permanence. In the later odes--"Ode on Melancholy" and "To Autumn"--he accepts life and its process of change, and he presents death as a natural phenomenon. Keats's development as a poet can be traced when we consider the differences among the odes, but they are similar in spirit and quality. They all examine the real and the ideal through presenting striking images and sound effects, which are coupled with the rich tones of the ode form.
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