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Keats's Odes

A Lover's Discourse

Professor Anahid Nersessian


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When I say this book is a love story, I mean it is about things that cannot be gotten over—like this world, and some of the people in it.”
In 1819, the poet John Keats wrote six poems that would become known as the Great Odes. Some of them—“Ode to a Nightingale,” “To Autumn”—are among the most celebrated poems in the English language. Anahid Nersessian here collects and elucidates each of the odes and offers a meditative, personal essay in response to each, revealing why these poems still have so much to say to us, especially in a time of ongoing political crisis. Her Keats is an unflinching antagonist of modern life—of capitalism, of the British Empire, of the destruction of the planet—as well as a passionate idealist for whom every poem is a love poem.

The book emerges from Nersessian’s lifelong attachment to Keats’s poetry; but more, it “is a love story: between me and Keats, and not just Keats.”  Drawing on experiences from her own life, Nersessian celebrates Keats even as she grieves him and counts her own losses—and Nersessian, like Keats, has a passionate awareness of the reality of human suffering, but also a willingness to explore the possibility that the world, at least, could still be saved. Intimate and speculative, this brilliant mix of the poetic and the personal will find its home among the numerous fans of Keats’s enduring work.

Praise For Keats's Odes: A Lover's Discourse

“This is an intense, often dazzling, original, illuminating, idiosyncratic, but also welcoming and welcome book. Offering trenchant, astute, often polemical and sometimes breathtaking readings of Keats’s Odes—and simultaneously of love, politics, worldmaking, and self—Nersessian has written a propelled, impelled, impassioned work, truly in Keats’s spirit.”

— Maureen N. McLane

“This book claims to be ‘about’ Keats’s odes. And it is. But it is also about beauty and sadness and love and revolution and how the odes can help us to better understand these things. It is nothing short of a perfect book, one that understands how poetry can transform one’s life. Nersessian is on track to be the Harold Bloom of her generation, but a Bloom with politics.”

— Juliana Spahr

“In a tour-de-force series of revisionary readings, Nersessian makes Keats’s odes new in A Lover’s Discourse; and by the end of this exhilarating book, a new poet emerges into historical and psychological focus as well, neither aesthete nor insurgent, but someone who discovers the radicalism immanent in literary style. On yet another level, Keats’s Odes is a discourse on love as interpretive practice. Demanding, generous, precise, utopian, and unfailingly brilliant, Nersessian reinvents reading itself as a form of critical intimacy for our broken times. ‘If love is anything not laid waste by this world it is free,’ writes this reader. ‘Mine is.’”

— Srikanth Reddy

"Intense emotion abounds in this literary blend of analysis and autobiography. . . . In six essays that examine each of Keats’s Great Odes, Nersessian tells a 'kind of love story' between herself and the poems."

— Publishers Weekly

University of Chicago Press, 9780226762678, 160pp.

Publication Date: February 10, 2021

About the Author

Anahid Nersessian is associate professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment, and the coeditor of the Thinking Literature series, published by The University of Chicago Press.