Monthly Archives: January 2012

Literature: John Keats’s Globed Peonies

I recently saw this vase of peonies in the window of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery, which of course (of course?) brought to mind the “globèd peonies” that John Keats mentions in his “Ode on Melancholy.”

In “Ode on Melancholy,” Keats basically starts out saying what not to do when overwhelmed in a melancholy moment: don’t kill yourself, don’t forget melancholy, don’t partner with it, etc. And then he goes on to offer a few things that a person can do when a “melancholy fit shall fall,” basically: glut your sorrows on thoughts of natural beauty. Morning roses, rainbows, waves, and peonies will do. Oh–and don’t let other angry people bring you down. Finally, Keats shows the brilliant interconnectedness of pleasure and pain, Beauty and Melancholy, joy and sadness. But instead of reading my very brief explication of the poem, I’d suggest reading the poem itself:

“Ode on Melancholy”

No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kist
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globèd peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

–John Keats (1795-1821)

The details:
Sullivan Street Bakery
533 W. 47th St.
New York, NY 10036

John Keats “Ode on Melancholy” reproduced from:
Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas, Sir, ed. The Oxford Book of English Verse. Oxford: Clarendon, 1919, [c1901];, 1999. [1.1.2012].