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A Song of Opposites- John Keats- Poem Summary


“Fragment: Welcome Joy, and Welcome Sorrow,” sometimes titled “A Song of Opposites,” was written sometime in 1818 by John Keats and was published posthumously. In this poem Keats celebrates the presence of beauty in everything, i.e. he includes all the deadly and sad objects or happenings also to his admiration. The first set of lines that Keats had quoted is from John Milton's Paradise Lost Book II, lines 899-901. In this section Satan confronts the gate keeper of Hell and finds out that Sin and Death are his daughter and son. When his daughter Sin unlocks the gate they see Chaos which is depicted as a clashing mix of elements.


"Under the flag

Of each his faction, they to battle bring

Their embryon atoms." - Milton

WELCOME joy, and welcome sorrow,

Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather;

Come to-day, and come to-morrow,

I do love you both together!

I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;

And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder;

Fair and foul I love together.

Meadows sweet where flames are under,

And a giggle at a wonder;

Visage sage at pantomime;

Funeral, and steeple-chime;

Infant playing with a skull;

Morning fair, and shipwreck'd hull;

Nightshade with the woodbine kissing;

Serpents in red roses hissing;

Cleopatra regal-dress'd

With the aspic at her breast;

Dancing music, music sad,

Both together, sane and mad;

Muses bright and muses pale;

Sombre Saturn, Momus hale; -

Laugh and sigh, and laugh again;

Oh the sweetness of the pain!

Muses bright, and muses pale,

Bare your faces of the veil;

Let me see; and let me write

Of the day, and of the night -

Both together: - let me slake

All my thirst for sweet heart-ache!

Let my bower be of yew,

Interwreath'd with myrtles new;

Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,

And my couch a low grass-tomb.


The poet welcomes both joy and sorrow; he calls for Lethe’s weed (Lethe is a Greek Mythological river which is considered to be one of the five rivers in Hades. This river represents “Oblivion”) and Hermes’ feather (He is the Roman Mercury, Son of Zeus, Messenger of the Olympian Gods, his feather has the ability to revive life) he asks both that is death and life to come today and tomorrow because he equally loves them both. He speaks of various paradoxical impossibilities all through the poem. He says, he would love to mark sad faces in beautiful weather and he also can hear merriness filled laughter in the horror voice of thunder. He says, he loves fair and foul together (it is also seen in the play Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” said by the three witches to Macbeth and Banquo). He says he could enjoy the fields sweet while they are in fire. And he laughs at it with an amusement. He could even imagine a sage who has an expression filled face at an entertainment play (which is totally impossible in reality). He thinks of funeral and steeple chimes together (steeple chimes are the bell sounds that is heard in a church). He pictures an infant playing with human skull (as deadly as the point is, the poet here is expressing his extreme ability of adoring beauty in anything). He compares Morning fair and a wrecked ship. He presents his view of nightshade with a kiss of woodbine i.e. olive green colour (woodbine is a Virginia creeper). Snakes are the epitome of sex and Roses are the epitome of love, he imagines both together. He could also illustrate the glamorous Cleopatra dressed in a dignified way with a small venomous snake of Egypt at her breast (irony is that Cleopatra after having elixir, she died with the bite of asap, asap is the snake). Here comes, the crazy imagination of Keats, “Dancing music, music sad, Both together sane and mad” that is a person dancing to a sad music which appears sane and mad together.

He did not leave the inspiration angel Muses too, no Muses is pale, yet here in Keats’ image she is. The planet Jupiter reflects many shades of white, red, orange, brown, and yellow but he pictures it dull with disgraceful health. He sounds insanely sane all through the poem. He describes how sweet is pain. He now calls upon Muses of the bright and the pale and asks them to show their naked faces to him, so that he can write both of the day (good, bright, pleasant) and of the night (dark, timid and deadly) both together. He says to both the Muses to let him satisfy his thirst for a sweet heart pain. He asks to let his retreat (writings) be filled with the venom of yew(a type of plant) covered with new myrtles (myrtles means leaves, it symbolizes spread of good work). He says pines and lime-trees full in bloom, whereas pines have neither flowers nor fruits. Finally he compares his resting couch to his eternal resting tomb. He pictures his couch as a tomb made of low-grass. The essence of beauty have seen with at most possibility though out the poem.

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