The Keats-Shelley Blog

16 May 2020

Week 8: Keats-Shelley Synchronised Reading Group - Melancholy

2 pm GMT, 20 May - John Keats' Ode to Melancholy and Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Smith by George Romney

The Keats-Shelley Synchronised Reading Group meets for 30 minutes once a week to read a poem or short prose passage - together and alone, from the safety and isolation of our homes. Over the past seven weeks, readers from Istanbul to Sweden, Rome to Mexico have read together in time if not in space, without any need for Zoom meetings or Skype hangouts. 

The idea of community through simultaneous reading was suggested by John Keats himself. In December 1818 he wrote from London to his brother George and Georgiana Keats in Kentucky: 

‘I shall read a passage of Shakespeare every Sunday at ten oClock – you read one at the same time and we shall be as near each other as blind bodies can be in the same room.’

Throughout this month, we are celebrating Keats' great May Odes of 1819. Last week, we read Ode to Psyche. For Week 8, as well as Keats’ Ode on Melancholy, we will read Charlotte Smith’s elegiac sonnet, To Melancholy: Written on the Banks of the Arun, October, 1785.

We will begin our reading at 2pm GMT on Wednesday 20th May. If work, family or time zones make this difficult - John and George would have read four hours apart - read at your own 2pm noon. Or whenever you can - the important part is the reading, and the community of readers united by books and the imagination.

We would love to hear where in the world you are reading. If you want to send us a video or recording of your reading - or your thoughts and feelings - please do so. Get in touch on Twitter or Facebook. You can email us too:

Week 8 Texts

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 kiss'd
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 globed 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

Listen to Michael Sheen reading Ode on Melancholy here, or below.

Sonnet XXXII. 
To Melancholy. Written on the Banks of the Arun, October, 1785.

When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil
And the gray mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
Thro' the half leafless wood that breathes the gale.
For at such hours the shadowy phantom, pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet's eyes;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
As of night wand'rers, who their woes bewail!
Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity's own Otway, I methinks could meet,
And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden'd wind!
Oh Melancholy!—such thy magic power,
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
Charlotte Smith

We will post next week's texts on our Blog. We hope to see you all again - in our mind's eye at least - at 2pm next Wednesday. 

James Kidd