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The poem Endymion by John Keats reads:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

I believe it is short for "in spite of", as is later supported by the line " yes, in spite of all ". I am convinced of it.

But my teacher says spite here means 'specks'. Another source says it stands for 'malice'. I asked my teacher how would he explain the 'yes' afterwards. But he could not give a satisfactory answer.

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    You are right, your teacher is wrong. See OED 1, Spite, 6.. – StoneyB Nov 4 '17 at 12:53
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    I would interpret it to mean "malice". But it's poetic interpretation, and no two people will read it the same. – Hot Licks Nov 4 '17 at 13:18
  • (Keep in mind that "in spite of" may not mean what you think it means.) – Hot Licks Nov 4 '17 at 13:20
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    I've only been interested in English for 60 years and I have no faint idea what your teacher might mean by specks in this context. It's nonsense. Though I never met Keats, I'd stake your teacher's salary that here, spite of means in spite of, the only difference being poetic licence… Further, if we really look at the passage in detail, my suggestion would be not only that they're poetically interchangeable but that Keats should have used In spite of. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 4 '17 at 21:19
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    I'm not sure why there is any lingering doubt here. Three lines further along, Keats continues in what appears to be a repetitive idiom "yes, in spite of all, Some shape or beauty moves away the pall". Clearly his earlier use of "spite" must be poetic licence for "in spite of". The English of the late-eighteenth century is very close to what we speak today, unlike that of Shakespeare and the KJV bible of almost two centuries earlier. – WS2 Nov 5 '17 at 20:48
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The strongest argument for reading "Spite of despondence" as "In spite of despondence" is, as the poster points out, the follow-up usage of "in spite of" within the same sentence three lines later. Here again is the whole sentence:

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.

Keats lists four things that might discourage a person from feeling bound to the earth through a love a beauty: (1) despondence; (2) a dearth of noble natures; (3) gloomy days; (4) unhealthy and darkened obstructions. But at both ends of this list he identifies things in opposition to those discouragements—first, the act of creating beauty ("wreathing a flowery band"), and second, the experience of feeling the force of beauty sweep away the cloud of gloom. Both positive things act contrarily and counter to the negative forces—which is to say, both act in spite of them.

I checked a number of books that quote this passage of Endymion, and most of them don't provide any commentary on the line in question. This, I think, is because most of them have no question that "Spite of despondence" means "In spite of despondence." I did find three texts, however, that venture a restatement or gloss on the original wording. From Milton Goldberg, The Poetics of Romanticism: Toward a Reading of John Keats (1969) [combined snippets]:

Mind and heart must interact to sprout a soul. Emulating the sweet sonnet, fettered in spite of loveliness, we must wreathe a flowery band to bind us to the earth—in spite of despondence or the dearth of noble natures:

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,

And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet

Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;

Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,

From Origins, volume 24 (1995) [combined snippets]:

He goes on to ask, in his classic poem, Are we creating some beauty each day ... in spite of despondence or the dearth of noble natures?

And from Keki Daruwalla, Poetry Magic 7 (2005), a collection of poetry designed for "the young":

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

[Explanatory note:] SPITE OF DESPONDENCE: in spite of being gloomy

This is not to say that Keats only uses spite to mean "in spite of." Michael Becker, Robert Dilligan & Todd Bender, A Concordance to the Poems of John Keats (2016) notes two other occurrences of spite in Endymion—in Book 3, line 615:

"Young lover, I must weep—such hellish spite

With dry cheek who can tell?

and in book 3, line 650:

I saw grow up from the horizon's brink

A gallant vessel: soon she seem'd to sink

Away from me again, as though her course

Had resum'd in spite of hindering force—

The "hellish spite" is unmistakably maliciousness, and the later "in spite of" clearly functions in the sense of "notwithstanding."

In books about Endymion, the "Spite of despondence" line seems uncontroversial. The few texts that address it at all interpret it as meaning "In spite of despondence," but most don't comment on it at all. The first law of poetry is that nothing is certain, so people who interpret the line differently are exercising their muse-given right to do so. But I think that the poster's reading of the line is the most straightforward and coherent of the various readings that are possible.

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