Keats's Odes and Contemporary Criticism

James O'Rourke

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"A penetrating account not simply of the poems themselves but of the theoretical positions that have informed their reading during the past forty years. . . . [O'Rourke] is particularly shrewd in suggesting the dialogue between New Criticism and post-structuralism that has been played out in their lines."--Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

James O'Rourke examines the ways in which the modern reception to Keats’s major odes reveals the investments made in these poems by successive generations of critical schools, particularly New Criticism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and New Historicism. O’Rourke’s reading of the odes locates them within the contexts of literary and cultural history and recovers the innovative force of the poems in a way that speaks to the aesthetics and the politics of the present.
While the themes of Keats’s odes are characteristically Romantic, they are also very modern. O'Rourke’s analysis shows how such familiar Romantic themes as the pathos of solitude ("Ode to a Nightingale"), the inaccessibility of the past ("Ode on a Grecian Urn"), the excess of melancholia ("Ode on Melancholy"), and the beneficence of nature ("To Autumn") become culturally coded as "female," and he demonstrates how the poems confront the reader with familiar ideas in surprisingly fresh forms. This original study does much to illuminate what Keats’s most virtuosic work has to say about history, nature, gender, ourselves, and each other.


James O'Rourke is associate professor of English at Florida State University. His work on British Romanticism has appeared in English Literary History, Genre, Criticism, Studies in Romanticism, and the Keats-Shelley Journal.

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"an intelligent and subtle reading of four of the great odes which foregrounds critical commentary in its extended ruminations on the texts" - Criticism Criticism

"Scholarship needs periodic reconsiderations of the critical traditions surrounding great poems; O'Rourke meets the challenge of saying something original about works that have been discussed endlessly in recent decades while showing clearly the strengths and weaknesses of the contributions that major schools of criticism have made to the discussion." Choice

"The real strength of the book is not finally in its revelations of critical limitations, or in its ultimate conclusions concerning the poems -- but rather in its attention to the subtle ways Keats' language operates (especially sonically), and in its finely-tuned attention to the mercurial Keatsian persona. In these emphases I found this study original, engaging, and critically valuable." -- The Wordsworth Circle The Wordsworth Circle

"One of the most valuable contributions of his study. . . is his breathtaking and original attention to the quality of sound in the poems. . . . O'Rourke both hears and analyzes the aural richness of the verse, probing its implications while still allowing it to continue to challenge and delight readers."-- New Books in Nineteenth-Century Studies New Books in Nineteenth-Century Studies

"Provides a needed response to New Historicism's insistence that Romantic poetry is invariably escapist." --European Romantic Review European Romantic Review

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