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Lyric Narrative and Keats’s Poetic Identity

“Ode to Psyche” and “Ode to a Nightingale”

Huey-fen Fay Yao

Department of Applied Foreign Languages

National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences

No. 415, Jiangong Rd., Sanmin Dist., Kaohsiung 8077, Taiwan



Keats is a narrative poet: storytelling is a mode central to the

practices and achievements of John Keats. In “Sleep and Poetry,” he

refers to life as “The reading of an ever-changing tale”


line 91


. This

line suggests his sense of the centrality of narrative to human experi-

ences. Yet the Keatsian narrative is a medium for Keats to explore the

nature and development of his poetic identity. In this context,

through the application of the theory of “lyric narrative”

a theory

first applied by Keats scholar Judy Little and promoted by narratolo-

gist James Phelan: similarities and overlaps found between narrative

and lyric poetry, this paper will read “Ode to Psyche” and “Ode to a

Nightingale” in the light of this theory to discuss Keats’s narrative

skills in these two lyrics.

These two poems are indispensable in examining Keats’s poetic

identity because each poem presents a different side of Keats. This

paper investigates two aspects of “Ode to Psyche”: the figuration of

Psyche and Keats as a modern poet. While striving for his poetic iden-

tity, the figure of Psyche reflects Keats’s anxiety and ambition. Keats’s

personal and expressive stance shown in celebrating Psyche makes him

an unconventional poet. At the same time, he demonstrates his grow-

ing consciousness and confidence in his poetic voice as he transforms

from a self-doubting poet to one who says, “I see, and sing, by my

own eyes inspired”


line 43


. In “Ode to a Nightingale,” the po-

et-narrator exhibits a differing outlook. Here the narrator’s attitude is