NEURAL SUBLIME: A NEUROSCIENTIFIC READING OF JOHN KEATS’S “ODE TO PSYCHE” AND S.T. COLERIDGE’S “KUBLA KHAN”
Lecturer, BVM Holy Cross College, Cherpunkal, Kottayam, Kerala, India.
Reconciling Arts and Science is bound to be formidable; romantic poetry and neuroscience will have to be yoked by the most extravagant violence if they are to be juxtaposed. Neuro-linguistics is a branch of linguistics which deals with the nexus between language and the structure and functioning of the brain. This study is thus partly an attempt to juxtapose the poetry of John Keats, the most sensuous of all Romantics, with anatomy and neuro-linguistics. At the risk of anachronism, it proposes to scrutinize Keats’s “Ode to Psyche” using the language of modern neuroscience, with an express aim to put it in a linguistic perspective, the intersection between literary Romanticism and human brain anatomy as it existed in the early nineteenth century. Setting aside the popular characterization of John Keats as a hopelessly melancholic young lover dreaming his way through medical lectures, for us he is a sophisticated thinker abreast with latest developments in the sciences as well as in literature, a brilliant medical aspirant who refused himself a degree, a “poet-physician” whose medical background left profound marks on his verse. Read along these lines, as will be illustrated in this scrutiny, one could consider “Ode to Psyche” as Keats’s tribute to Neuroscience. The poignant images that embellish the mindscape in the poem can be traced to exact aspects of the brain anatomy as Keats understood it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is another stalwart of the Romantic era, whose poetry can be profitably explored along the same lines. His celebrated “Kubla Khan” is a poem that may be analysed and understood like “Ode to Psyche”. The dream element and fragmentary nature of the poem add to the possibility for exploring the mindscape. The poem also reminds us of the impact of opium, which has medicinal value, and at the same time, has the ability to spur on the imagination. The physician Keats and opium-addicted Coleridge share certain peculiar features which become central to the very connection between neuroscience and Romanticism. Moreover, the study offers a foray into the scientific ramifications as well as the creative romantic ideals in an unprecedented manner. The prevailing notions regarding the romantic conceptions are further subverted and many veiled relics of neuro-linguistics are excavated here.
neuroscience, romantic poetry, neuro- linguistics, dream and psyche.