, Research Paper
What is the first word that pops into your head when you hear the word Urn? Some might think of death, pottery or some people just might not know what an urn is. For John Keats an urn is a beautiful piece of art and love, and just a pinch of loneliness mixed all mixed together. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is one Keats’ masterpieces. Keats’ poem encompasses three main themes of the Romantic period, imagination and fantasy; personal expression, the person is often the author; and the uses of symbolism and imagery where objects are endowed with significance beyond their obvious appearance, function or meaning.
Keats starts the poem with references to a woodland scene. He uses this image to begin a series of questions that begin to unravel the mysteries of the urn.
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods ore these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
In these lines Keats is looking at the urn and asking, “what tales do you have to offer to me? What kind of tales are these? What are you all about?” Keats uses these questions to grasp the readers’ attention and to get a mental picture or idea of the urn and it’s beauty. The Tempe is valley in Greece and has now come to represent supreme rural beauty. The dales of Arcady are a set of valleys in the state of Arcady of ancient Greece they are often used to represent the pastoral ideal. The reference to pipes and timbrels, is a reference to musical instruments of ancient Greece. Keats is describing through question; letting the reader create his or her own picture of the images on the urn. This creates more of a fantastic view of the images.
Keats had a very hard childhood and is reflected in this poem. Keats lost his mother and brother to tuberculosis, his mother when he was fourteen and his brother when Keats was a man. These two deaths were very hard on Keats and he longed for them both to be back by his side.
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
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!
In this section Keats is thinking out loud. He is trying to convince himself that they, his mother and brother, will always be with him. He begins these lines by feeling sorry for himself, but then realizes that self-pity would get him nowhere. He has one last thought of pity, which is “though thou hast not thy bliss” (line 19). He then decides to think of their deaths as fortifying them for the rest of his life; he will always have memories and images of them both. He uses this section to draw parallels between a character painted on the urn and himself.
The whole poem is a great example of using symbolism and imagery where the object is endowed with more significance beyond its obvious appearance, function or meaning. There is not one section of this poem that shows this any better than another. The whole poem is glorifying a piece of ceramic that holds somebody’s ashes. A piece of pottery can be beautiful, but if you think about what it is really designed for and used for, it takes away from the beauty of it. The urn is holding a dead person. There is nothing beautiful about that.
In conclusion, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats, is an exemplary piece of “Romantic” writing. This poem contains three prime characteristics of the romantic period. First it uses imagination and fantasy to paint a picture for the reader. Second it is an example of personal expression; it is a reflection done by John Keats as the narrator. Thirdly it using imagery and symbolism where the object is endowed with significance beyond its obvious appearance, function or meaning. Now think about the word urn and ask yourself, “what does it mean to me?”