The Odes of John Keats

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 1985 - Literary Criticism - 330 pages
8 Reviews

Helen Vendler widens her exploration of lyric poetry with a new assessment of the six great odes of John Keats and in the process gives us, implicitly, a reading of Keats's whole career. She proposes that these poems, usually read separately, are imperfectly seen unless seen together--that they form a sequence in which Keats pursued a strict and profound inquiry into questions of language, philosophy, and aesthetics.

Vendler describes a Keats far more intellectually intent on creating an aesthetic, and on investigating poetic means, than we have yet seen, a Keats inquiring into the proper objects of worship for man, the process of soul making, the female Muse, the function of aesthetic reverie, and the ontological nature of the work of art. We see him questioning the admissibility of ancient mythology in a post Enlightenment art, the hierarchy of the arts, the role of the passions in art, and the rival claims of abstraction and representation. In formal terms, he investigates in the odes the appropriateness of various lyric structures. And in debating the value to poetry of the languages of personification, mythology, philosophical discourse, and trompe l'oeil description, Keats more and more clearly distinguishes the social role of lyric from those of painting, philosophy, or myth.

Like Vendler's previous work on Yeats, Stevens, and Herbert, this finely conceived volume suggests that lyric poetry is best understood when many forms of inquiry--thematic, linguistic, historical, psychological, and structural--are brought to bear on it at once.


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Review: The Odes of John Keats

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Masterful criticism. I love Vendler's study of contradictions, the way she folds the language of Keats's letters into her criticism, and the continuous build toward her chapter on "To Autumn." Read full review

Review: The Odes of John Keats

User Review  - Goodreads

Some brilliant readings tucked inside a book that is every chapter about 20 pages too long. She just overdoes it. And she is much smarter on the early odes than the later ones--especially on Indolence ... Read full review

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