Sie sind auf Seite 1von 8

L I S T E N

U P !

O D E

T O

K E A T S S

P S Y C H E

I would like to give a description of listening in the context of a


discipline that ties it to the act of literary reading. Many types of
analysis, of course, turn to literature for illustrative support. Without hardening a distinction, I will suggest that a literary reading
is, well, literary. It stays longer with text and intertext, while
recording the mind as it goes through its moves, seeking to nd
what will suce.
Listening is so integral to quality of life that it cannot be conned to a particular discipline, or singled out by the claim that its
training through literature could signicantly sharpen perception
and lead to a lessening of the inhumanities we try to remedy. It
should be cultivated as part of a vigilant approach to all things.
The reading of poetry is best viewed as a consciousness-raising
project to make us aware of the pleasure as well as surprising
complexity of, also, nonpoetic verbal structures. As teachers and
readers we aim at the full restoration of a sense caricatured by
William Blake: The Ear, a little shell, in small volutions shutting
out / True harmonies, & comprehending great as very small
(Jerusalem, plate 49).
Listen up, then. Keatss Ode to Psyche begins, O Goddess,
8 6

hear these tuneless numbers, wrung . . . Even before we wonder


about Psyche, the poets diva, and this poems gushy devotional
diction, we come upon a questionable phrase. Tuneless numbers?
It is, of course, a modesty topos, spoken by the poet as votary of a
deity who may not wish to acknowledge her devotee. Stylized
petitions like these are conventional enough in cult odes and other
poems derived from classical literature. One of my favorites, in an
explicitly pastoral setting, comes from Sir Philip Sidneys Arcadia.
During a double sestina exchange Strephon and Klaius ask of the
goatherd gods, nymphs, and satyrs, Vouchsave your silent ears to
playning musique. It is a line slowed by the reminiscence of
quantitative metrical schemes and a culture of exquisite courtesies
captured by the fashionable pastoral.
Yet Keatss plea to be heard is more than conventional. Wrung /
By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear (line 2) expresses
determination as well as humbleness. More important, tuneless
recalls that poetry is no longer sung or recited to an accompanying
musical instrument, such as pipe, lute, or lyre (line 7).
What further relevance do these bits of information have? Keats
is aware of a change in his medium: the music of independent
poems, still called lyrics, has come for a long time only from within
the printed verse itself, generally read silently rather than chanted.
This internalization suggests the subsistence of a specic poeticlinguistic type of melody and encourages a listening-through-theeyes. Garrett Stewart calls it Reading Voices, and its encryption
the phonotext. The lyric poem now sings its own song, John
Hollander has said. Not, perhaps, without a plaintive undersong,
pointing to the absence of a more directly received musique of the
Muses. This inward turn may also have a bearing on the gure of
Psyche. Oh brightest, the poet calls her (line 46, originally O
Bloomiest!), yet she is not implored as gods or personications in
traditional odes usually are to reveal herself by a theophany fuller
than the rst stanzas teasing earthly glimpse. Psyche, for Keats, is
essentially inward, sheltered, barely visible; and the poet promises
her a sanctuary betting that characteristic.
Note also that the poems narrative element is minimal. While
knowledge of Psyches story is presupposed, the ode does not seek
to please by the elaborated repetition of a familiar tale. Instead,
the poet invokes Psyche as an imaginary, or still to be fully imagR

8 7

8 8

H A R T M A N

ined, object of worship, a personied Thou merging with the very


poetry she inspires.
Keats admits that the time of fond believing is over (line 37).
Here, nevertheless, and with Hyperion (his ultimate god-lled
invention) incomplete, he recalls a marginal, newly-minted divinity for an unbelieving age. As elusive as her presence may be, the
poet celebrates Psyche in a copious and luscious diction that shelters as well as reveals. He elects himself the priest of a muse closer
to humanity and perhaps femininity than any exalted Olympian
gure.
Keatss choice of Psyche, poetological rather than theological, expresses a counter- not anti-Enlightenment temperament. Through
her virtual, objet dart presence, he revives the aura of Romance
literature, that large and varied vernacular corpus of late-Roman
and medieval ctions. As if still a poet of the Renaissance, he has
the endearing habit of heaping up as much loot from the Romance
tradition as he can. His sumptuous poetic numbers also in the
sense of enumerations, of poetic catalogues evoke, as does much of
Romantic poetry, the spirit of that historical treasure. After Keats,
Romance continues to tempt not only the Pre-Raphaelites but
also Ezra Pound on the very threshold of modernism.
Yet because of Psyches inwardness and elusiveness, there remains, amid all that rich dcor, a sense of unattainability, of a
missed encounter. Stanzas 24 spell it out: Psyche came too late
in (literary) history to be included among the faint (feigned?)
Olympians (line 42); while the poet, who would build for her, in
himself, the missing temple and ritual and in fact does so via this
bowery poem the poet is not exactly in harmony with an age that
no longer believes the fond believing lyre [liar?]. The odes entire
project may therefore be in vain, and Keats might indeed nd
himself tuneless. Not everyone appreciated his owery verses or
sweet sooth; he did not escape, in particular, the charge of
eeminacy.
Could it be, however, that he wanted the passion poesy to
compensate for the lack of an criture fminine? Or wished to
fashion an androgynous style? Is Psyche perhaps a trial expansion
of the muse/mother gure, here more invoked than developed,
but at once anticipating and eluding the sublime as well as severer
Y

L I S T E N

U P !

aspect of Hyperions Mnemosyne/Moneta? Many might reject


such suggestions as examples of presentism, of reading into a
bygone epoch a (gendered) meaning beyond its horizon, a meaning imposed by our own restitutive preoccupations. Yet human
nature is surely prescient enough to think in futuristic terms. We
do not have to like the poem, but its Arcadian style is striking, and
we should give it time to soften hard-conched ears.
Loss, or an absent presence, so subtly conveyed by the opening
line through little more than a sux (the less of tuneless
rhyming internally with Goddess and partially with numbers)
that haunting loss is quickly counterpointed, once we perceive
that wrung sounds as if it were derived from the verb to ring,
and so infers a tune of its own, more like a summons than a
petition. The very word is like a bell. A covert pun like wrung
approximates a rich rime: a word rhyming with another having
the same sound. Fane, a synonym for Psyches shrine, which
Keats wishes to build (line 50), rhymes in a rich way with feign
(line 62), to simulate.
Deploying an arty, courting language of owers, Keats feigns a
fane for Psyche. Despite the odes eulogistic plenty, however, the
sense of loss does not fade completely. Apuleiuss myth, running in
the background, tells what happens after Psyche looks directly at
the sleeping Cupid. That scene of simultaneous enlightenment
and loss is subtly evoked by the torch in the odes last lines. The
poem ends precisely at the point where, in the storied past, one
step more leads to fulllment or to transgressing a prohibition,
when Psyche shines a light on Cupid. She loses her lover and has
to redeem herself through trials (not mentioned by Keats) which
unite her with Cupid once more and deify her. A famous Jungian
psychologist, Erich Neumann, called these trials labors of the
feminine and identied them in Amor and Psyche: The Psychic
Development of the Feminine as a developmental parallel to the
labors of Hercules.
Though Keatss poem is a belated version of a belated myth, it
reverses Psyches fading status in that twilight of the gods we call
the Enlightenment. A sense of what Psyche might mean for love
and the imaginative life returns. Like a reversed lm, the ode
begins at the end, with the glimpse of the redeemed Psyche.
Surely I dreamt today, or did I see, the poet reports, not quite
R

8 9

9 0

H A R T M A N

trusting his eyes or did I see / the winged Psyche with awakened
eyes? (lines 56) There is, at rst, no certainty here, only a truth of
the imagination. Winged implies deity but also volatility.
We cannot even be sure whose eyes are awakened. Do they belong to the poet, who is granted that visionary glimpse, or are they
the eyes of Psyche? When the poet declares in the fourth stanza
(line 43), I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired, he resolves the
matter by asserting the authority of his own imagination.
A suggestion of sensual enlightenment in awakened eyes lingers nevertheless. For the ode is in good part about eyes and love,
love and euphemism, direct and indirect looking, direct and indirect telling. Recall a myth older by far than that of Psyche. Having
eaten of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the eyes of Adam and
Eve were opened, and . . . they saw they were naked. In Keatss ode,
by contrast, everything moves restitutively toward a tender eyedawn (line 20).
The ode is also, however, about awakened ears. Keatss shadowy
thought (line 65) conspires with the poems aural nuances. It
displaces ocular greed (eyes here are fragrant, not agrant) as well
as a related passion, the quest for certainty.
The poet does not dramatize himself as an Acteon interloper;
his mood is that of not knowing whether he was/is in a dream
rather than the daylight world. One is tempted to understand
Surely I dreamt today not only in the sense of dreaming what he
thought he glimpsed, but of dreaming the day itself. Fainting
with surprise suggests the poet passed with open eyes into a
dream vision, an enchanted realm.
I dont know how we can untangle such branched thoughts
(line 52); but perhaps the syntactic and auditory indeterminacies
of the lyricism Keats is weaving intend to evoke a desire removed
from the more greedy I spy sort of ocular certainty. The texture
of his words may reect a style posterior to the Augustan age
(so John Lemprire, author of a mythological dictionary read by
Keats, characterized Psyches story, meaning that it was composed
by Apuleius later than the great period of Roman literature under
the emperor Augustus, the period of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid). For
Keats, however, that later age is the Romantic age, viewed as a
challenge to the English eighteenth-century Augustans. The
brightness of brightest Psyche has to be restored by a new mythY

L I S T E N

U P !

ological faerie, even if that has its risks. Keatss quest is for an
enchantment that will not lead to a waking like that of the knight
in La Belle Dame sans Merci, a waking on a cold hillside where
no birds sing, waking to a failed poetic harvesting. So in O latest
born and loveliest vision far (line 23), the delayed far at once
acknowledges not only Psyches worth (she is the loveliest by far)
but also her far-awayness, her unattainability. The far echovibrates: fair[er] faded fans faint fainting.
Hence also a striking literary feature, the surmise. The surmise,
a hovering between certain and uncertain (Surely I dreamt . . . or
did I see), conveys a speculative and expansive, a Tempe rather
than a hard-edged, reality-testing mood. Keats calls it Negative
Capability, when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. An
extended variation of the formal surmise also generates the rich
guessing in the fth stanza of Ode to a Nightingale: I cannot
see what owers are at my feet. . . . But in embalmed darkness
guess each sweet. Shadows numberless (line 9) turn into tuneful numbers as the Nightingale odes murmurous fth stanza
ows seamlessly into the next stanzas Darkling I listen and the
seductive thought of an easeful death cushioned by the numb
in numberless. Yet Keatss wakeful listening in the dream-vision
zone between sleep and poetry resists, even while it risks, a lethal
drift. No, no, go not to Lethe (Ode on Melancholy).
Listening rather than lethe-ning and I end with this comment
listening to the Psyche ode includes picking up the audible intertextual shadow of a famous older poem. Keatss second verse, with
its notable adjective-noun/noun-adjective chiasmus sweet enforcement and remembrance dear, echoes Miltons Lycidas.
There Milton prematurely tests his poetic talent. His coming out
starts with an apology for plucking something unripe with forcd
ngers rude, ngers compelled to write because of a poet-friends
untimely death. Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear impel
his pastoral elegy.
The later poets transformative line is more than a tribute to
Milton. Feeling acutely that his lifetime would be insucient to
harvest the poetry in him, Keats wished to go beyond loitering in
the apprentice genre of the pastoral, the realm Of Flora, and old
R

9 1

9 2

H A R T M A N

Pan (see his Sleep and Poetry). Like Milton, he aimed higher
than shepherd pipings and ower-strewn verse, knowing that
even the pastoral often used lesser things to hint at greater. At the
end of Lycidas, Miltons Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures
new already indicates, if still in pastoral terms, an ambition to
transcend the pastoral. Keats is inuenced by the hierarchical
poetics continuing into his time that esteemed the epic as the
highest literary mode and expected it to deal with the nobler
life nobler than pastoral joy or sorrow. The epic was by tradition
a grand narrative covering the agonies, the strife / Of human
hearts in fateful historical circumstances (Sleep and Poetry,
lines 123.).
Yet we know from Keatss unnished attempts to write an epic
on the Hyperion theme that he felt blocked by the heightened
style of Paradise Lost. Milton had fashioned a wrought diction far
from colloquial English, and Keats (w)rings with it. Even the
verse appropriated and revised from Lycidas (By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear) remains distinctly articial. It
forces itself on Keatss ear, and that type of poetic diction could
become a dear, also meaning dire, memory infusion. English
must be kept up, Keats famously said, deciding to abandon his epic
project; and although in The Fall of Hyperion he exhorts every
poet to speak his visions, it is with a caution attached: if he had
loved / And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.
So Keats merges love and the mother tongue. Literary ethics,
whether intended for poet or reader, should make place for a
doubly nurturing axiom of that kind. Endymion (the very music
of the name has gone / Into my being, lines 36.) could already
be viewed as a reverse Ovidian metamorphosis, the long touching
of an exotic language of owers into an incarnate human, fully
sensuous shape (1.3637, 4.67). No wonder bloomiest Psyche
still merges, in the Psyche odes last stanza, with a orilegium
shrine that includes
the wreathed trellis of a working brain,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,
With all the gardener Fancy eer could feign.
The stars without a name in this virtual Temple of Nature mark
a rich emptiness and anticipate namings still to come, beyond the
Y

L I S T E N

U P !

word-and-mind music of a closing or self-transcending pastoral


tradition.
Keats revives a dream associated with the Romance languages
since Dantes time. That dream helped transform a group of national vernaculars of Latin derivation into illustrious literary media. It did so by re-infusing them with the high culture heritage of
classical Rome and Greece. A mortal Psyche and an immortal Eros
meet in that dream of a shared language, created by enriching the
mother tongue and so overcoming hierarchic barriers, imagined
or real, among gods and humans.
No small achievement. Yet Keatss Romantic extension of Romance, his creation of an English dolce stil nuovo, never gave up on
something more intense, such as the Miltonic epic, or the nativist
realism of Shakespearean drama. The apologetic tuneless numbers, magnied by Monetas stern accusation in The Fall of Hyperion, Thou art a dreaming thing / A fever of thyself, already
hints at the inadequacy of a poetry still caught up either in a vain
quest for what the rst version of Hyperion called the large utterance of the early Gods or, as here, in the dreamy, melodious machinery of Arcadian Romance. (The psychoartist Jacques Lacan
once dened the real as the object of an indenite, never to
be attained awakening.) Leave melodizing, Keats demands of
golden tongued Romance in his sonnet On sitting down to read
King Lear once again. He attempts an Adieu to the very principle of melody in verse that his friend Benjamin Bailey identied
as one of the poets favorite topics of discourse. Yet the sonnets
very portrayal of that aspiration remembers a seductive older
poetic diction: When through the old oak Forest I am gone, / Let
me not wander in a barren dream, / But, when I am consumed in
the re / Give me new Phoenix wings to y at my desire.

9 3