In 1819, John Keats wrote a letter to his brother George and his sister-in-law Giorgiana, who had recently moved from London to America. In the letter, Keats included a poem, which he introduced as “the first and the only one with which I have taken even moderate pains…I hope it will encourage me to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy spirit.” The poem was called “Ode to Psyche,” and it has taken its place among five other poems Keats wrote in 1819 and that are now called The Great Odes. In this episode, we follow our conversation with Anahid Nersessian by examining her favorite of the Great Odes, as we explore the myth of Cupid and Psyche and the way Keats’s imagination unlocked the power of an underserved goddess.
In 1819, John Keats quit his job as an assistant surgeon, abandoned an epic poem he was writing, and focused his poetic energies on shorter works. What followed was one of the most fertile periods in the history of poetry, as in a few months’ time Keats completed six masterpieces, including such celebrated classics as “To Autumn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Now, two hundred years later, an American scholar has written an exciting new book called Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse, in which she gathers and revisits the Great Odes, viewing them through a personal prism.
Anahid Nersessian was born and grew up in New York City. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and has taught at Columbia University and UCLA. Her first book, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment was published by Harvard University Press in 2015, and her second book, The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life, by the University of Chicago in 2020. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.