Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keats and the Vikings

Today I was teaching John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and the discussion naturally turned to the Minnesota Vikings.

In the poem, the poet looks upon images on an urn and reflects upon it.  This passage in particular sent me on a tangent:

"Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"

The poet looks at a picture of a man trying to kiss a woman.  Because it is a picture, it is frozen, and it will always be frozen.  The man's lips will always be moving toward kissing the woman, but will never actually kiss her.  Keats suggests this is a good thing: because the scene will not change, the man's love for the woman will not change, and she will always be beautiful.  This contrasts real life, where emotions do change and all flesh decays.

Keats is praising desire.  Fulfillment of desire can bring disappointment, and even if it brings satisfaction, it is still fleeting; all things change.  By being stuck frozen in the moment of desire, the man will forever be happy.

And I told my class that one of my greatest desires is to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl.  I talked about how I long for it, how I dream for it, how it has never happened and how I think that if it does happen, life will be perfect and I'll never complain about anything again.

I talked about how I don't understand why my Packer fan friends who did see the Packers win the Super Bowl in the '96 season can ever complain about anything.  "You saw your favorite team win a Super Bowl; isn't your life now perfect?"  I assume that if the Vikings win a Super Bowl, I will never complain about them again, and if they ever disappoint me, I'll just smile and say "Oh well--they already won the Super Bowl."

Maybe Keats is telling me to enjoy what I have.  The tantalizing desire may be a greatly enjoyable part of being a fan, and perhaps fulfillment of my desire will be disappointing (and would be fleeting).  Of course, I consider it a "desperate urge" more than a "tantalizing desire."

But the poem still makes me think of being a Viking fan.  We're that "Bold Lover," frozen on an urn, always leaning in for a kiss but never actually getting to do it.


  1. So when you bring the purple up, do the students get that far off look because they're thinking, "Our prof's talking about the Vikings again in our literature class."

    And why no analysis of Chilly's "Damn how rough the seas. Did he bring her in" quote from a week ago?

  2. You know, if students ever reacted by saying something like "Enough with these tangents--we're supposed to be appreciating poetry, dammit!", I'd probably be thrilled.

    They laugh--I teach at a school that has pretty big followings for both the Vikings and the Packers, and a generally friendly rivalry among fans.

  3. PV,

    I had a great literature prof. in college, but every time you draw these comparisons it makes me wish that I had had the opportunity to hear one of your lectures.

    Maybe I'm biased because I'm a big Vikings fan, or maybe it's just refreshing to read a blogger who appreciates good literature and good logic. Either way I'm sure my non-Viking fan friends are sick of me emailing them links to your posts.

  4. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Just a reminder a loss by the Bears tonight and we can clinch the NFC Norris this Sunday. Go Saints !

  5. Anonymous8:54 PM

    You know what burns my a$$? Watching the Bears go up and down the field forfilling their destiny to win the NFC North. I can't stand the fact that the Vikes never pull out a MUST win. I sit here with this overwhelming feeling of doom and can't shake it!
    The only thing thats as bad as a Viking loss is a Bears win. Piss on the Bears!! (by the way long time reader, big fan!!)ANGRY JOE

  6. Anonymous10:08 AM

    I probably would have complained to the dept. head if you'd tried soiling Keats when I was there.

    I talk about Brett Favre when teaching Tennyson's Ulysses and the third section of Beowulf.