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Ode to Psyche

Dreamed 1819 by John Keats
O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
Even into thine own soft-conchèd ear:                              [shell-like]
Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see
The wingèd Psyche with awakened eyes?
I wandered in a forest thoughtlessly,
And, on the sudden, fainting with surprise,
Saw two fair creatures, couchèd side by side
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp'ring roof
Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran
A brooklet, scarce espied:

'Mid hushed, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,                                 [purple]
They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;
Their arms embracèd, and their pinions too;                             [wings]
Their lips touched not, but had not bade adieu,
And if disjointed by soft-handed slumber,
And ready still past kisses to outnumber
At tender eye-dawn of aurorean love:                                   [dawning]
The winged boy I knew;
But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove?
His Psyche true!

O latest born and loveliest vision far
Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy!
Fairer than Phoebe's sapphire-regioned star,                                 [Luna]
Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;                       [Venus; the Evening Star]
Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,
Nor altar heaped with flowers;
Nor virgin choir to make delicious moan
Upon the midnight hours;
No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet
From swinged censer teeming;
No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat
of pale-mouthed prophet dreaming,

O brightest! though too late for antique vows,
Too, too late for the fond believing lyre,
When holy were the haunted forest boughs,
Holy the air, the water, and the fire;
Yet even in these days so far retired
From happy pieties, thy lucent fans,                             [your bright wings]
Fluttering among the faint Olympians,
I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired.
So let me be thy choir, and make a moan
Upon the midnight hours;
Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet
From swinged censer teeming;
Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat
Of pale-mouthed prophet dreaming.

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane                               [shrine]
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branchèd thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind:
Far, far around shall those dark-clustered trees
Fledge the wild-ridgèd mountains steep by steep;
And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds, and bees,                             [breezes]
The moss-lain Dryads shall be lulled to sleep;                            [tree-nymphs]
And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreathed trellis of a working brain,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,
With all the gardener Fancy e'er could feign,                         [Fantasy, Imagination]
Who breeding flowers, will never breed the same:
And there shall be for thee all soft delight
That shadowy thought can win,
A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,                           [open window]
to let the warm Love in!


Was this dream-based? Framing poems as dreams was a common device, but I trust Keats for this reason: compare the image of the winged lovers, which he says here he believes he dreamt, with his letter telling a Dante dream that led to an aborted poem. That dream is more Romantic yet; had the letter been lost and the poem survived, I suspect many critics would deem its dream a mere literary conceit. But Keats dreamt not only of seeing but being literary and mythical characters. So when he says he saw Eros and Psyche, I take him at his word.

--Chris Wayan

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