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Reid, S.A. (1971). Keats's Depressive Poetry. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(3):395-418.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(3):395-418

Keats's Depressive Poetry

Stephen A. Reid

Two recent essays on Keats attempt to identify the locus of concern in the major poems. Robert Rogers, in “Keats's Strenuous Tongue: A Study of ‘Ode on Melancholy’” (Literature and Psychology, Vol. 17, No. 1), locates that concern in the genital sphere. A. Hyatt Williams, in “Keats's ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’: The Bad-Breast Mother” (American Imago, Vol. 23, 1966), locates that concern in the “depressive position.” It might be argued that both are correct—that the primary concern in one of the poems might be genital and in another might be oral—but it is not likely. Keats, like most lyric poets, is narrow and repetitive in the source of his poetic materials. It is the strength of the lyric poet that he returns again and again to a single subject or theme—for that is where his concern lies, or, as we would say, where his significant fixation is located. For most lyric poets—at least in English—those interests are pre-genital. (John Donne would appear to be a notable exception.) A writer whose interests are genital turns to the drama or to fiction—to stories whose essential themes are variants upon the loves and jealousies appropriate to the Oedipal conflicts. Keats's poetry is unambiguously oral in its essential concerns, even when, in works like “The Eve of St. Agnes,” genital love would appear to be the organizing concern. The argument of Robert Rogers seems to me forced. Ingestion is Keats's primary mode of experience, and the seeing of an apparent extension of parts of the ingestive apparatus to genital concerns—Rogers' point, for example, about the “strenuous tongue”—appears to me to reduce the poem to a kind of elaborate pun. Williams's argument appears to me quite correct.

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