Track your Manuscript
Enter Correct Manuscript Reference Number:
Get Details
Top Editors

Dr. Nanjappaiah H. M.
Assoc. Prof. Dept. of Pharmacology BLDEA’s SSM College of Pharmacy & Research Centre Vijayapur – 586103, Karnataka, India

Dr. Shek Saleem Babu
English Language and Literature, English Language Teaching, and Poetry, IIIT, RGUKT, Nuzvid, Krishna Dt. AP, India

Dinh Tran Ngoc Huy
Bank for Investment and Development of VietNam (BIDV)

Dr. Abd El-Aleem Saad Soliman Desoky
Professor Assistant of Agricultural Zoology, Plant Protection Department Faculty of Agriculture, Sohag University - Egypt

Prof. Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Ahmed Elnashar, Ph.D.
Full-Professor of Textiles &Apparel, Faculty of Specific Education, Kaferelsheikh, University, Egypt
Top Reviewers

Dr. Shabnum Musaddiq
Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, Narayana Medical College, Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, India, 524003

Dr. Biman Kumar Panigrahi
Associate professor, Seemanta Instt. of Pharma. Scs., Jharpokharia, Odisha, 757086, India

Efanga, Udeme Okon
Finance, Accounting and Economics, niversity of Calabar, Nigeria

Aransi Waliyi Olayemi
Department of Adult Education, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
Why Us
Open Access
Rapid publication
Lifetime hosting
Free indexing service
Free promotion service
More citations
Search engine friendly
Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Education and Literature | Volume:3 Issue:2 | April 30, 2022
65 Downloads113 Views

DOI : 10.47310/Hjel.2022.v03i02.006       Download PDF       HTML       XML

Review Article

The Theory of Yin-Yang: A Study in Selected Odes by John Keats

Naila Yasser Salah*, Rua’a Ali Mahmood and Mohammed Saad Qasim

Department of English Language, Al-Esraa University College, Baghdad, Iraq

*Corresponding Author

Naila Yasser Salah

Article History

Received: 15.04.2022

Accepted: 24.04.2022

Published: 30.04.2022

Abstract: Discussing the relationship between the Chinese philosophy (Yin and Yang), and the English literature is rare. The paper introduces John Keats poetry to depict the two poles of the world which are Yin (translated as black). Yang (translated as light or white). But is the world that Keats depicts in his poetry full of gloomy, dull and darkness? Or is it full of happiness, mirth and tranquility? Or is there a balance and equilibrium between the two contrasted worlds?! Just like the depiction of William Blake in Songs Innocence and of Experience. Which are inseparable as Blake says "The Two Contrary States of Human Soul". Where we can clearly see the two forces of (Black and White).

Keywords: Yin and Yang, dark and light, male and female, pain and pleasure.


If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse (Blake, W. 1790).

Image is available at PDF file

Figure 1

The circle which is made from the monochrome (black and white) and each circle has a spot of the other, called in the ancient Chinese philosophy Yin and Yang. Anyway, this concept has been discovered since 1300 BCE. It was found in the Chinese inscriptions of the weather's divination. Actually, these two swirls represent the cosmic unity and harmony. It was mentioned in the collection of Shihing which is the oldest collection of Chinese Poetry, translated as Book of Odes, Book of Songs or The Classic Poetry. This book is a collection of poems collected by Confucius 6th century BCE.

In addition, between 700-400 BCE when the alchemist, philosopher, and the chief thinker who represents the Yin Yang School which concentrate on the idea of The Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) which life depends on. However, these Five Elements are controlled by the power of Yin-Yang; it is a piece of Chi which means "vital life force (Brown, D. 2003)" , "material energy" and "energy flow (C, Donald Goellnicht. 1984)".

In general, the circle itself refers to "everything in the universe", but the white and black shapes within the circle refer to the opposites and interaction of the world, since they are not fully white or black. This concept of dualism represents how contrary and opposite powers can be interdependent, integral, complementary, coordinated and interconnected in the cosmos, both give rise and interrelate to one another. Anyway, according to the cosmology of China, the primary anarchy of material energy was the reason which leads to the creation of the universe, in another meaning, the cosmos creates itself because of the material power's chaos, and thus the Yin-Yang was organized and formed into lives and objects.

In the Chinese mythology, the universe was absolutely nothing more than a chaos, the Earth and the Heavens combined together to form a big egg, inside this egg slept a giant called The First Man (Pan gu) for 18,000 years. While sleeping Yin and Yang grew as Pan gu grew inside the egg, to be balanced till his awaken. After that he cracked the egg to get rid of the dark and see the light. He splitted it into two parts; the Heavens and the Earth. Then he separated the Yin and Yang to live in harmony at the center of the Earth. Anyway, after another 18,000 years. The First Man died, his fleas, parasites, and lice became Man, his right eye changes into the Moon, his left eye changes into the Sun, his voice changes into thunder, and his blood changes into rivers… etc.

As such the disconnection of the Heavens and the Earth was the only reason behind the beginning of Yin and Yang, which are the contrasted forces of the world. However, according to the Chinese religion, Confucianists prefer Yang because they believe that Man should engage in society, focus on human manners and developing the society, while Taoists prefer Yin because they believe in Nature and dealing with life in a natural manner. As such they focus on Nature. The goal of Confucianism is to create understanding and harmony, while Taoism seeks balance. Taoism believes that women have a great role in the world. On the one hand, Confucianism believes that women are inferior to men. Therefore; Confucianism represents Yang and Taoism represents Yin.

What does Yin-Yang symbolize?

Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness. Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking. Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is related to everything else in function and position. Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid. The absolute works together with the relative, like two arrows meeting in mid-air (Keats, John, and Robert Gittings, 2002).

However, most of the contrastive paradoxes in life and accordingly in the human psyche are naturally designed to rejuvenate the human potentialities that cope with life and existence. So light and darkness reflect that conforming paradoxes that give sense to our daily life. Each contrast is as vital as the other.

They are tied together to create some intrinsic thing. For example, shadows cannot exist unless there is some light. So if the world, by extension, is full of one race like (women) only or (men) only, this race won't last for generations. Emptiness and extinction will pursue as a result.

In fact, the Yin-Yang is usually described as the sun rising over both mountain and valley, when the sunbeams pass over the mountain and the valley gradually the Yin-Yang will change their places to expose what was mysterious and cover what was exposed. yet, each one of the has characteristics, Yin is negative, passive, darkness, coldness, slowness, cloudy and night-time as well as it represents earth, water and female while Yang is positive, active, brightness, hot, restless, shiny and day-time as well as it represents heaven, fire and male.

The traditional Chinese medicine Yin-Yang can be applied to human health and condition, the balance in these two poles are directly related to the oneself of human beings, if the Yin-Yang are unbalanced this means there is deficient trend in the oneself. Talking about medicine and human condition, the English Romantic poet John Keats experiences Yin more than Yang in his personal life.

John Keats

John Keats (1795-1821), was born into a humble family in 1803 his parents could not pay for his teaching so they sent him to John Clarke's school where Keats befriends Charles Clarke the headmaster's son and showed his interest in history and classics. His mother remarried and left him with his three brothers to live in Edmonton's village at their grandmother's house. Anyway, in 1810 his mother contracted tuberculosis and died. Through these real images of death we clearly can see the domination of the negative side (yin) over Keats's early life, but is Keats able to pass the dark side of his life? Does he have the means to find light in this mess? Is he capable of joining the two contrary forces to keep on? There is no life without death. That is the true meaning of Yin and Yang.

Though the negative force kind of prevails his early life, through time the positive side (yang) begins to show up. Keats actually tries to do something beautiful and good to the world as long as he still alive. In 1818, he sent a letter to the publisher John Taylor, saying: "I find that there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world (_________. 2001)". In the same year he wrote a letter to his friend J.H. Reynolds, he announced that "I would jump down Aetna for any great public good (_________. 2017)". (Letters, 1:267), through his letters we can tell that Keats pursuits were to make something good to the world, he was ambitious he wanted to leave a good trace before he death.

Through his biographical facts and his decisions, we can guess that he was truly honest about his quest. In the mid of 1810, when he left the Enfield school, he chose to be a surgeon, so he apprentice himself to the surgeon and pharmacist Thomas Hammond, he decided to be a man who can offer good things to the world. His closest friend C.C. Clarke said "The medical profession was Keats's own selection and not one chosen for him (Kisen, S. 2016)".Actually, Keats’s life was badly influenced by the death of his parents; this of course was rather negatively reflected on his poetic product and henceforth became very purposeful. The middle class Keats chose the medical field to heal the sick and stop the suffering of human, because he witnessed this pain while taking care of his sick dying mother, because he witnessed this pain while taking care of his sick dying mother. His younger brother Tom contacted tuberculosis and his middle brother emigrated to the United States. This had left Keats with friskily grim psychological state when he felt the abandonment of happy family life. His poetry, therefore, was like a refuge to save him from loneliness.

Now I am never alone without rejoicing that there is such a thing as death – without placing my ultimate in the glory of dying for a great human purpose …. My love for my brothers, from the early loss of our parents, and even from earlier misfortunes, has grown into an affection of “passing the Love of Women.” I have been ill – tempered with them, I have vexed them – but the thought of them has always stifled the impression that any woman might otherwise have made upon me. I have a sister too, and may not follow them either to America or to the grave – Life must be undergone …” (Letters, 1:293)

In 1818 when his brother Tom died he tried to console himself by falling in love with Fanny Brawne who ignored him because he was poor, so he made another important decision in his life, by doing good to the world not through medicine but through poetry. However, during his short life (till 25 years of age) he found the way of light by flying with the wings of poetry (like a nightingale flying with wounded wings in the starry nights) to discover the beauty of both sides of Yin and Yang, through poetry he expressed about the two contrary poles which control the world, if these two sides did not exist there will be no co-existence. As William Blake affirms "The contraries are positive. Without contraries there is no progression, attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to Human existence (Kit, Kiew Wong. 2014)".


Keats’s Grecian Urn, however, is rather pictorial as it depicts different marble scenes curved on it. Being a funeral vase, it contains ashes of the dead. In 1819 Keats wrote this ode when he was inflicted with tuberculosis. This left him with a grimy and bleak feeling as he felt like a walking ghost. Indeed, Keats saw this ancient Greek urn at the British Museum where the frame of the Ode had captured his attention. The Ode translates a deep and desolate feelings of sadness and vigorous happiness which are obviously intimately engraved on the urn surface. The Ode, nevertheless, contains a variety of contrastive subjects like death and life, love and hate in addition to some pastoral scenes which are the reminiscence of the Romantic background. Hence, the urn is depicted as a container of the contrasts since it reflects aesthetic sensual beauty that is materialized through the pictorial depiction on its surface and the deep dark spiritual content of the funeral dust of the dead inside it. Keats picked it, through his sharp romantic consciousness, the clash of contrasts which is but a reflection of the reality of existence. This is quite close to the “smile of the skull” in Samuel Beckett’s dramatic work Not I. In his depiction of the Greek vase, Keats brings close the idea of life and death. This interprets the gloomy sense of his poetry which seems to stand on the verge of understanding the secret of existence. Apparently, the idea is rather extended by the allegorical and symbolic uses of his verse which translates the vigorous attachment to life yet without askance to revert to the dark side of its end.

In the first three stanzas Keats describes the Beauty of the urn, in the first stanza, he compares it into an "unravished bride of quietness (Landrum, B. 2017)". untouched bride. In the second and third stanzas, he describes three images on the urn, the first image is a picture of a melodist whose music is unheard by humans except people who have imagination to envisage the melodies on the urn which are sweeter than the music of actual life; the second image describes romantically a kiss that tries to reach the beloved cheeks. However, the two depicted lovers will stay in this pleasurable mood and keeps their youth. The third image describes Spring season which will last ever after. The Spring on the urn is different from the Spring in reality, for the urn Spring is immortal while the actual spring ends in few months.

The fourth stanza does not abandon the duality of Yin-Yang as the poet describes beautiful scenes and rituals. Then the tone of sadness and death is heard, so the cycle of Yin-Yang keeps rolling. Here Keats’s mind was driven by a scene of sacrifice, when cheerful people left the town and went out to "green altar". Anyway, though the "heifer" has been decorated with pretty "garland" and flowers. Unfortunately, there was a "mysterious priest" dragging the cow to be slaughtered as a sacrifice, the cow was "lowing" or crying and looking to the sky with open mouth. The blood sacrifice ritual is an ancient tradition that entirely relies on the cleansing of the soul through the corporal pain and attrition. Keats had restored this in a bout of unconsciousness that was rather triggered by the laudanum-like pain killers. Such drugs may enhance the sense of elation that is needed to bring about the ecstatic moment of inspiration. This might be a conclusive way that is conducive to settlement of the problematic enigma of life and death.

However, the poet presents that the town is now empty because all people from every place went out to witness this ritual in this "pious morn"14, so he imagines the town is located close to a "river or sea shore/ or mountain-built with peaceful citadel". Anyway, the "little town" and its "streets" will be "silent" and "desolate" because its people would "e'er" return" it will be lifeless.

In the fifth stanza, the poet moves to talk about the Beauty of the urn's appearance, he was captured by its "Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede/ of marble men and maidens overwrought". Then the poet shifts to describe the "beautiful branches" and its "weeds" which have been "trodden". Then the poet describes the urn as "Cold" for it was made from marble or brass. Therefore, it has "Cold pastoral" because there is no soul in the urn but only curved images. And this is a deficiency. Then he praises the urn in when he said,

When old age shall this generation waste

Though shalt remain, in midst of other woe (St, Anthon Maarten. 2012)

The urn will remain forever, while in contrast, we will get older and die, still there will be new generations to face new problems, but the urn will remain "a friend of man", that gives advice to everyone in its capacity as "sylvan historian At the end the poet epigrammatically summed up the philosophical decorum of existence that is generalized in an extended mode when he wrote that:

Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,_ that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know (Sok Suh, C. 2015)

Keats has a belief that "Beauty" and "truth" are inseparable twin concepts that are existentially related to a third prime concept of “goodness” hence to compose the trio corners of the universal being: Truth + Goodness + Beauty. This Grecian belief had inspired him with the ancient philosophy that engulfs his Ode and he installed a cross link of interchangeability among the philosophical trio because which is beautiful is true, and which is truth is beautiful. In this way, Keats seeks some form of equilibrium among the universe components quite necessary for life to go on. Actually, there are many interpretations to his belief. One of them reflects the actual life not the imaginative life. Life accordingly must be accepted along with its sorrows and joys, with its simplicity and complexity, with its shadows (Yin) and its light (Yang).Keats believes that life generally rests upon positive and negative poles.

In fact, Keats believes that contrasts generated by Yin-Yang is neither self –complacent nor self- contradictory or opposing, they show self- balance of the realm. The clue can be found in his A Song of Opposites, where the opposites reflect oneness.

Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow

Lethe's weed and Hermes' feather's

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,

serpents in red roses hissing..

Both together sane and mad (Kong Qiu, C. 2007).

Ode on Melancholy was written in 1819 during spring. He wrote it when he was reading The Anatomy of Melancholy by Richard Burton. Anyway, the ode consists of three stanzas, each stanza has ten lines. The first stanza shows what the sufferer should not do, the second stanza shows the devotees of melancholy: what should they do; the last stanza gives advice to the pleasure- seeker.

In the first stanza, the speaker shows how the sufferer responds to melancholy. In this stanza the speaker gives warning to the sufferer about the things that the sufferer should not do.

No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist

Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine,

Nor suffer thy pale forehead be kiss'd

By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;

Make not your rosary of yew-berries,

Nor let the beetle nor the death-moth be

A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;

For shade to shade will come too drowsily,

And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.13

The speaker mentions many elements that the sufferer must keep away from them when he/she is sad, like "Lethe" in Greek mythology; Lethe was a river that ran through Hade's kingdom, and its water takes the sufferer to oblivion. Neither "wolf-bane" nor "nightshade" all are poisonous plants, nightshade was eaten by Proserpine, who was the daughter of Demeter and Ceres, she was kidnaped by Pluto, the king of the underworld, she felt grieved, so she ate "nightshade" when Jupiter asked Mercury to bring Proserpine to earth, she got stuck between two world of death and living, six months on earth in spring and six months in the underworld.

The speaker keeps on mentioning the things we must accompany when we are sad, like "yew-berries" because they grow in graveyards, "beetle" which is often used by the Egyptians in their tombs and whose screech is associated with bad omen so one must not make "death-moth" be his mournful "Psyche", and mustn’t be a friend to the creatures which are the symbol of sadness and death like "owl" because it won't help you to experience the full betterment of sadness because "shade to shade will come too drowsily/ and drown the wakeful anguish of the soul".14

In short, poisonous drinks would bring only a mood of oblivion and forgetfulness or put you in a mood of numbness or drowsiness or make you sleep. As a melancholic person, one must seek consolation, melancholic mood by companying melancholic or ugly things. The sufferer must allow the pain he feels to be awakened. The things that the poet describes in this stanza are all associated with Yin. There is no spot of light (no Yang) which delineates that life won't keep on and one may stay in a dark ditch. Therefore, in second stanza, as contrasted the first stanza, the speaker wants to balance between Yin and Yang.

In the second stanza, Yang was born in Yin, Yang becomes the healing power.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt and-wave

Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

Or, if thy mistress some rich anger shows

Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,

And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.15

Being a state of low mood and aversion to activity” and those who are melancholic are inflicted with “anhedonia” might have convinced Keats to ask the devotees of melancholy what they should do. Anyway, there are a lot of images in this stanza that show Yin-Yang, where the poet shows a sad image and at the same time he derives light and happiness from these images.

The poet manipulated the image of the "weeping cloud" to suggest rain, then suddenly he drew an image related to Yang "that fosters the droop-headed flowers all". Tears are but exhibition of sadness yet they are not without benefit when they help flowers to flourish. However, this image is implicitly contrasted with the fact that when the "weeping cloud" or fog of our melancholy covers up flowers " it hides the green hill in an April shroud" . Sadness, however, works like a curtain that impedes any clear vision of the beauty of life or greenery around. It engulfs the whole world around us with shroud of uni-vision that makes us unable to conceive the world. The poet used a Yin-related image of the white sheet "shroud" usually used to wrap the dead body. Keats compares sadness with a "shroud" that covers the beauty of April. Keats tries to say to the devotees of melancholy that they must console their sadness not by associating sad objects but by beautiful and cheerful elements.

Self-satisfaction is mainly achieved with sorrow when one is able to “glut” it “on a morning rose”; this act certainly helps to mix up glee with sorrow,so one you can reach the sublime of melancholy with the "morning rose", "rainbow" and "globed peonies".

In the last three lines Keats depicts a very realistic picture of a "mistress" getting angry, and the lover instead of getting angry too, he "emprison (s) her soft hand" and gazes into her "peerless eyes". There is a contrast between the two lovers' eyes: the mistress’s (yin) angry eyes and the lovers' fondness eyes. This contrast between negative and the positive eyes leads to a new glory to the mistress; her angry eyes make the lover "feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes”. Life indeed goes on with its delicate equilibrium of joy and gloom, black and white; this generates a deeper meaning for man to understand life and existence. It helps reveal one of the secrets of the most controversial being of man on earth. This controversy is adhered to revelation of why man seeks knowledge continuously as to meaning of why he comes to or goes from this world. In addition, the mistress represents Yin and the lover represents Yang. Dan Brown said in The Da Vinci Code

The Pentacle- The ancients envisioned their world in two halves-masculine and feminine. Their gods and goddesses worked to keep a balance of power. Yin and Yang. When male and female were balanced, there was harmony in the world. When they were unbalanced there was chaos.16

In the third stanza, the poet wants to show how joy and melancholy, positive and negative, beauty and ugliness, Yin and Yang can go hand in hand with each other, they can not separate because without them there will be spread out of chaos. In the first four lines.

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips

Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,

Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:17

The poet personified melancholy as "she", melancholy lies in the company of "Beauty", though it has a short life and all beautiful joyful things have a transitory existence. The poet uses another personification, he personified "Joy" as someone rises his hand to his lips to depart and say "adieu". The fact of the short life make us feel that beautiful things will turn into "poison" figuratively to something made us sad, like departure and death that is why the poet uses "melancholy pleasure". In seeking the melancholic pleasure, Keats juxtaposes two contrasts that yield to psycho-analytical interpretation. The presence of melancholy with pleasure may sometimes suggest a sadist trait which leaves little doubt that Keats extracts the entanglement of the psyche to the surface of his wise poesy. Undoubtedly, experiencing the very density of pleasure will definitely be conducive to displeasure, exactly like adding too much sugar to your cup of tea. The result will be a horrible taste that is entirely unpalatable. In the case of poem, this pleasure will lead to pain since Keats resembles the pleasure seeker to a bee that searches for nectar (Yang occurs here), yet too much nectar will kill the bee and leads to poisonous unbearable sting. Perhaps the poet implicitly points out to strike some kind of equilibrium that activates a bigger sense of objectivity which derives a stoic meaning.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight

Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,

Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue

Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;18

In fact, the previous idea is repeated here, but in a different way. The poet resorts to personification again as a device to explicate the stranded psychology of man. "Delight" is personified as a god with temple, yet not anyone can find the "Melancholy" of the shrine as it is "veil'd" by "Delight". Meanwhile “Melancholy” can be found by certain people, like the people who have a strong power in their tongues to burst the "grapes" of joy to taste its delicious taste, those people are able to figure out that melancholy is linked with light. In other words, people who can experience the finest shadows and the aching of melancholy. These are the same people who have the ability to appreciate the beauty of pleasure. People who can find melancholy in happy places actually have a sense of taste. This compound revelation of the inner complexity of the psyche helps understand the diversified levels of human reaction towards the external world.

His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,

And be among her cloudy trophies hung.19

The interaction between melancholy and pleasure leaves little space for a seeker to reconcile with life and the surrounding existence. Pleasure & melancholy are rather interchangeably inseparable and their chain discloses the secret of existence that is composed of black and white, life and death or beginning and end. So when man was created, man was given the chance to please and get saddened since his life is in the hands of the Creator. For the Romantics, sensing life lets them experience the rapprochement of the two ends. Keats is no exception as he depicted the secret of man as being the most dignified creature on earth. The pleasure is corporeal and the melancholy is tied to the souls. Therefore, the souls who have the honor to be conquered by the force of Melancholy they are the same souls which are able of enjoying the ecstasies of pleasure and delight. In his book, A Chorus of Voices, Brownell Landrum said

Remember the balance; the give-and-take of energy. The symbol of yin and yang is more than the integration of male and female. It’s also the balance of light and dark, soft and hard, active and passive, in and out, giver and receiver. You can’t have one without the other.20

In the ode Yin-Yang is no longer viewed as separated forces, when each force wants to cancel or defeat the other, but as something that forms the essential existential unity.

Ode to Autumn, the ode was inspired by a walk he had taken in St.Pancras churchyard one autumnal evening. He was absorbed in his own thoughts accidently his friend Chatterton fell in an open grave Keats helped him out and joked that he was happy to assist with the resurrection of a genius. Chatterton replied “my dear friend I have been at war with the grave for some time now”. Three days later in August he killed himself. In a letter written to a friend John Hamilton Reynolds, he explains:

How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now-Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm-in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it. I have been at different times so happy as not what weather it was I always somehow associate Chatterton with Autumn. He is the purest writer in the English language.

For Keats, Chatterton was the emblem of the outcast poet crushed by neglect and of suffering youth generally. Keats associates Chatterton with Autumn to talk about the way the season can represent both fulfillment and finality, abundance blended with the certainty of decline and loss, after completing this ode, six months later the symptoms of the tuberculosis begins telling him that his death is coming. In spite of his short life, he wrote many odes that present the two poles, where there is harmony of similarity and harmony of contrast. The ode can be read in term of yin-yang theory. In fact, the four seasons: Fall and winter are yin seasons their days tend to be cooler. In addition, the daylight hours are decreased. Therefore, low temperature and declining sunshine are yin characteristics. On the other hand, Spring and Summer are yang seasons when days are warmer and daylight lasts for long hours. Both warm temperature and long daylight are yang characteristics. Anyway, the main season in this ode is autumn, the poet divides the ode into three stanza. Each stanza shows the three stages of Autumn. Firstly: the prime, (growth) refers to the effect of yang on the beginning of Autumn. Secondly, the mid, (harvest) where yang’s characteristic’s begin to fade away allowing yin to come. Finally, the late (death) where yin ended and balanced the three stanzas. In fact. The description of the three stages of the season can be compared to the three stages of life, of human condition, youth, adulthood and death. Therefore, Autumn is a season of both yin and yang due to Autumn’s beginning has yang activity its mid is yin inactivity and its end blended the two poles.

Keats’s view of seasons is conventional: spring is the time of growing and budding, summer of fulfillment and winter of death, but autumn is a tweener, its between summer and winter.

Nothing is completely yin, nor is it completely yang. All things in the material universe contain the seed of their opposite force…. Therefore, yin can become yang, and yang can also become yin, though both yin and yang are needed for the whole to be complete.

Keats is a poet of senses and the natural scene of Ode to Autumn is full of sensual images. Autumn is usually associated in literature with life coming to an end but in the first stanza, Keats paints a picture of nature in its prime. The “season” ia personified as a woman and “the maturing sun” personified as a man “conspiring” or working together to bring nature to a peak of abundance maturity. Autumn is personified as a woman of “mists” which is an invitation to winter and “mellow fruitfulness”, is her last gift. Anyway, Keats lists four things that resulted from the harmony of the man and the woman (Yin and Yang). Firstly, “to load and bless/ With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;” nature is full of life and energy there is obvious activity like the grapevines run around “the thatch”. Secondly, “To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,” the apples on the fruit trees are so heavy with ripeness to the core that the branches “bend” with their weight and ready to drop. Thirdly, “To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells”, the pumpkins grow bigger and bigger. The hazels have been fattened with kernel are filled with a sweet kernel. Finally, the effect of early Autumn on the flowers “to set budding more,/ And still more, later flowers for the bees,”, “more” is emphasized by repetition “And still more” which creates this sense of overflowing abundance. At the end of the stanza with the “clammy cells”, which are the honeycomb made by “the bees” they are over –brimming with sweet sticky honey. The previous season “summer” is mentioned at the end of this stanza to remind us that this is very early autumn and so altogether, the surfeit of nature introduces the first subtle note of caution “Until they [bees] think warm days will never cease” .This imagined over-confidence of the bees who enjoying the oversupply of budding flowers feel that warms days will never cease.

The activity of the male (Yang) and his harmony with the female (Yin) show us the positive result and balance that the world needs. Yin and Yang. In fact, is not a matter of which is better, male vs female, dark vs light, autumn vs spring, summer vs winter, but about how to incorporate because corporation leads to fine results. The atmosphere of this stanza is ultimately one of peacefulness, there is no sadness running through the stanza. The ultimate glory of autumn can be seen in line 6 “ripeness to the core” its autumn’s climax and last hurrah before the middle level of autumn which shows how autumn will walk toward Yin.

In the second stanza, Autumn is personified as a woman (Yin) performing different tasks associated with that season, personified in a variety of attitudes. It personified as a harvester (winnower), reaper (death) itself, gleaner, and cider-maker (cider- presser). The stanza begins with lazy tone. Firstly, as a winnower who separates the chaff from grain, but who sits sleepily in a grain “store” with her “hair” being softly “lifted by the winnowing wind”. The alliteration and the assonance of this line refers to an image of autumn feeling sleepy and drowsy (Yin). Secondly, as a reaper, the inactive and slothful tone and imagery of this stanza continues with a development of the previous personification this time the female figure of autumn is found “asleep” on “half-reap’d furrow”, means half the crop in the field has been collected. She uses her scythe or “hook” to harvest half of the corns but in the course of her work overcomes by “the fume of poppies” and falls asleep in the furrow mid swing (Yin) .The word ‘hook’ gives an image that autumn is a cruel, and kind at the same time. Although ‘hook’ is a cruel implement and refers to image of war, but the “spares the next swath and all its twined flowers”, shows a sense of fairness and kindness (Yang inside Yin). Anyway, autumn can be compared into the woman in the poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Keats describes them both are beautiful by describing their physical appearance autumn’s “hair” and the woman without mercy was described as a faery’s child,/Her hair was long, her foot was light,/ And her eyes were wild.” Both of them may refer to Fanny Brawne (Yin). Thirdly, autumn personified as a gleaner who collects the grains and goes home by crossing the “brook” with her “head” laden with the weight of the grains, but she stops again to watch intently the slow crushing of the ripe apples in the wooden press to get the juice from the “cider” is to be made. Autumn sits by the cider-press and patiently watching the apple juice “oozing” out of the press, drop by drop. This is the fourth personification for autumn (Yin).

In the third stanza, Keats addresses autumn herself “Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?” advising her not to mourn the loss of spring because autumn has its “music too”. Keats explains that autumn is beautiful as spring and even more. He shows this by diving into the gorgeous imagery of late autumn. He begins with the cloudy sky when the clouds look like the bars of a grate (Yang).Then he says “While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,/And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue” these clouds look like the “bloom” as they light up with the colors of sunset (Yang), though there is a suggestion of death “soft-dying day” not only the day comes to an end, so does the year. The fields are now “stubble-plains”, but death here is not a tragic but it is a “soft” and gentle death.(Yin and Yang), the reddish colors of the sunlight "touch" the fields softly. This is a wonderful image of the harvested fields and reminds us of the previous stanzas. Though the stanza presents images of death and “the small gnats” by the riverside "mourn" which come out in the evening with their low buzzing sound into a choir at a funeral who “mourn” the dying of the year (Yin). Still, there is a tone of tenderness. The last few lines suggest an acceptance which includes even the fact of death. In fact, this part of the ode is full with songs of animals that sing for the late of autumn.

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

The “loud bleat” of the “full –grown lambs” can be heard from the hill. “ the “crickets” or the grasshopper are singing by rubbing their wings together. Next the high, bold and delicate singing of “The redbreast” can be heard from an orchard. The songs symbolize life that stand out sharply against melancholy austerity of late autumn. Finally, there is the twittering of the “gathering swallows” who are ready for migration to warmer climate can be seen as a sharp reminder of the advent of winter. The surplus of light, warmth and food are at end replaced with images of emptiness and desertion can be seen as a sharp reminder of Chatterton’s death.

In term of Yin- Yang theory, the last stanza shows the balance, the greater permanence is the continuity of life. It also reflects the transitory nature of life. The rotation of the seasons proves this continuity. In this stanza, Keats refers the “music” of autumn to show that each season has its own beauty and sound. Moreover, although autumn will be followed by the barrenness of winter, winter which refer to yin, it won’t last for good, it will in turn give way to the yang spring. Life goes on. The concluding line “And gathering swallows twitter in the skies” which gives a hint of the coming winter. Yet, we remember that migratory birds return when the cold weather ends.

Keats has succeeded in expressing the beauty, charm, the symphony of autumn and ageless human activities in the lap of nature. The poem blends living (Yang) and dying (Yin), the pleasant (Yang) and unpleasant (Yin) because they are inextricably one; he accepts the reality of mixed nature of the world. Confucius says;

Yin and yang, male and female, strong and weak, rigid and tender, heaven and earth, light and darkness, thunder and lightning, cold and warmth, good and evil...the interplay of opposite principles constitutes the universe.

Keats had a personal contact with death, the death of his parent, his brother and his illness, all of them influenced his works. He struggled to find the balance. Therefore, he wrote about death in connection with Nature in connection with the four seasons. Keats reflected his own life in his works as death became a positive part of life and he learned to accept it.


To Keats, the world is made of opposites However, these opposites are rather interchangeable as they determine the quintessential being of man whose continuous attempt is to find a resort of the controversial dilemma of being existent. Life, as well, is also full of antagonisms which familiarize the living and placate the pain of awareness of Man’s conflict. Accepting the existence as it is makes things easier to understand; this is what Keats attempted to do in his Odes which, the corpus of criticism admits, represent a course of life line. Any mishap may set imbalance that affects the behavioral system and the social community. Through the odes of Keats we can figure out these two contrary forces are inseparable; they are the foundation of moderation and the balance that the world needs. Both gradually trade their places like the annual cycle of seasons. This philosophy shows that everything has both the Yin and the Yang sides. They are complementary, and by default they are not opposing to each other as it seems. They are the fruitful juxtaposition of harmony, unity, duality and continuity. In spite of that Keats experienced Yin more than Yang in his life but his odes open the gate to welcome mirth and sorrow, sweet and sour. In other words, his Odes prove that joy and melancholy are two faces to one coin. In fact, opposites attract each other to make the equation of life.


  1. Blake, W. (1790).The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.Uk: Dover Publications

  2. Brown, D. (2003).The Da Vinci Code: Featuring Robert Langdon. New York: doubleday.

  3. C, Donald Goellnicht. (1984). The Poet-Physician: Keats and Medical Science. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

  4. Keats, John, and Robert Gittings, et al. (2002). Selected Letters Oxford World's Classic. New York: Oxford Un Press.

  5. _________. (2001).Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats. New York, Modern Library.

  6. _________ . (2017).John Keats: His Life, His Letters & His Literary Remains (Knowing the Man Behind the Lyrics). New Haven: Musaicum Press.

  7. Kisen , Sekito. (2016). ‘The identity of relative and absolute’. Zen Studies Podcast, 10-14.

  8. Kit, Kiew Wong. (2014). The Art of Chi Kung: Making the Most of Your Vital Energy .Kedha: Cosmos Internet.

  9. Landrum, Brownell. (2017). A Chorus of Voices .USA: Brownell Media.

  10. St, Anthon Maarten. (2012). Divine Living: The Essential Guide to Your True Destiny .eBooks for Africa/e-Boeke vir Afrika.

  11. Sok Suh, C. (2015). Acupuncture, Anatomy. Regional Micro-Anatomy and Systemic Acupuncture Networks.Oxfordshire, Taylor & Francis.

  12. Kong Qiu, C. (2007). The Analects of Confucius. United States. Translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Press.

Copyright © 2020 Inlight Publisher (IARCON INTERATIONAL LLP). All Rights Reserved.