Keats's Odes and Contemporary Criticism

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University Press of Florida, 1998 - Literary Criticism - 193 pages
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"A penetrating account not simply of the poems themselves but of the theoretical positions that have informed their reading during the past forty years. . . . [O'Rourke] is particularly shrewd in suggesting the dialogue between New Criticism and post-structuralism that has been played out in their lines."--Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

James O'Rourke examines the ways in which the modern reception to Keats's major odes reveals the investments made in these poems by successive generations of critical schools, particularly New Criticism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and New Historicism. O'Rourke's reading of the odes locates them within the contexts of literary and cultural history and recovers the innovative force of the poems in a way that speaks to the aesthetics and the politics of the present.

While the themes of Keats's odes are characteristically Romantic, they are also very modern. O'Rourke's analysis shows how such familiar Romantic themes as the pathos of solitude ("Ode to a Nightingale"), the inaccessibility of the past ("Ode on a Grecian Urn"), the excess of melancholia ("Ode on Melancholy"), and the beneficence of nature ("To Autumn") become culturally coded as "female," and he demonstrates how the poems confront the reader with familiar ideas in surprisingly fresh forms. This original study does much to illuminate what Keats's most virtuosic work has to say about history, nature, gender, ourselves, and each other.

James O'Rourke is associate professor of English at Florida State University. His work on British Romanticism has appeared in English Literary History, Genre, Criticism, Studies in Romanticism, and the Keats-Shelley Journal.

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