Ode To Grecian Urn Essay, Research Paper
A Critical Analysis- John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
The Romantic Period introduced a variety of writing styles. The authors of the
early eighteenth century altered many of the earlier romantic pieces. The early writers
primary area of concern was nature. It was not until the ladder part of the eighteenth
century that authors began to focus on the supernatural as well as nature. John Keats
unique style of writing gave the world a great respect for his work. Keats felt his poetry
should effect the readers emotions, and only great poetry could move the reader to the
point of enjoyment. In doing this Keats felt the only way to achieve his goal of “moving his
audience” was to surrender to uncertainties, or by believing much of life is unexplainable,
especially human beings, who strive on emotion that guide their wants and needs.
In the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, the urn represents a story without regard to time.
(Bloom 16). The unchanging marble arrests time through the urn. (Bloom 16).
“When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain” (lines 46-47),
describes the unchanging marbles and the characters on the urn. With the unchanging
marble, the urn has slowed time towards eternity, making artwork immortal (bloom 16).
This shows the immortal side of the Grecian urn physical appearance. The unchangeable
urn also displays a tale of an everyday place. The urn show the people with their endless
“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,
Tough winning near the goal- ye, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hadt not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (lines 15-20).
Life is halted and can never continue from this point. The fair youth, the Bold Lover, the
trees of spring, and the season spring, can ever leave their endless deeds. Immortality of
the town is shown.
“What little town by river or seashore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is empitied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets forevermore
Will be silent be…” (lines 35 – 39).
The town will never see people inhibiting it, bringing loneliness and immorality throughout
the town. These are the advantages mortality give to the living. The themes of
immortality and morality can be seen throughout “Ode of a Grecian Urn.” The
unchanging marble of the urn can be considered immortal just as the tale displayed on the
urn. The fact that the tale on the urn can never change shows the disadvantage of being
immortal and the reason why morality can be better.
The poem begins by probing the reader with a series of questions presented by the
speaking subject. Keats then permits the urn to speak without speaking , to “express a
flowery tale more sweetly than rhyme.” Keats has trouble getting outside of the answers he
continually struggle with during his writing career. He presents a series of questions he
expects the urn, or the representative of the urn to answer. Scott says, “the ode does not
begin with the speakers attempt to compete with the urn, but with a homage to its strange
genealogy and its paradoxical powers of eloquence” (Scott 135). Scott also says, Keats
immediately becomes impatient with the urn’s silence and seeks to impose his own dialogue
on the existing surface of the urn. Andrew Bennett recognizes Keat’s desire to enter the
dialogue saying, “Keats always seems about to burst into narrative” (Bennett 130). He
appears from the beginning to question the urn, then later adds his answers. Keats now
haunts the reader at the end of the poem by questioning the nature of truth represented by
the urn. Stillenger accurately states in “The Hoodwinking of Madeline”, the question of
the urn, “Who said what to whom at the end of ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn?” (Stillinger 167-
173). Truth is related to whom we identify as the speaking subject. Someone or something
is addressing the reader directly. Someone is defined as “a friend of man”. Keats sees the
“happy lover” as well as the “object of desire”, the three boughs and the piper. The urn
contains a scene ambiguous in meaning. He presents questions within the first through
forth stanzas. He demands origins, names and meaning in regards to specified events. The
unanswered questions are left for the reader to answer.
Jason Muro says, the ode inscribes a sine wave, with five distinct points along its length.
First, the poet is steeped in despair brought about b the world’s unrelenting flex. Second,
upon entering the urn, he is filled with hope he has found the antidote for despair. Third,
he finds his hope unfounded, the antidote was a placebo. Fourth, he closely examined the
urn, he embodies a terror more intense than the despair from which he sought relief. The
Placebo is in fact poison. Last, he embraces transient conditions of the world as an antidote
to the terrors of the urn. The point of origin of Keats initial problem from which he wants
to ascene becomes his point of salvation he want to climb by the end of the poem.
Keats became apart of his poetry by becoming all of its characters in one aspect or
another. He is the “unheard melody that is never really heard or appreciated in its
lifetime”. He is the tree that will never go bare, because he died during the spring season of
the year. He is the bold lover that will never kiss yet will forever love. Line after line
Keats is the representative of the objects and people he describes. The happy boughs,
happy melodist, and the pining lover.
I believe the poet and the urn to one in the same. The question is, What was the
meaning of “beauty is truth, truth is beauty?” Stiller believes it to mean, “face value, the
statement is false, and Keats knew this and understood this, but maybe considered it a
simple, sarcastic equation that would guarantee a frivolous, superficial existence in a
society consumed with who’s who.” (200). Keats was making a mockery of the ideal,
‘forever happy’ lifestyle by realizing no one is truly happy no matter how thing appear to
the outside world. The urn may have been representative of Keat’s dream of a short
lifestyle. A group whose motto was “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and were there beliefs
to their end. What was the true sacrifice Keats endured within this work? Was so much
of his time spent creating this fictional urn, only to inform society of his final analogy of his
time on earth? Did Keats consider himself to be the “Sylvan historian?” Had he mastered
the superficial rules to life and living on earth? Was he letting the reader in on his theory?
of “Beauty is truth, truth beauty?” These are questions that may remain unanswered by
Keats, but remain a mystery to whomever has the opportunity to explore “Ode on a
Taking a look into to today’s society, we find the same belief. Appearing to be
physically perfect is the new trend. We worship Hollywood stars and try to model our own
lives after them. The media makes the world of Hollywood perfect and we sometimes have
a difficult time deciphering between our world and their world. There are many of us who
aspire to be like the ‘stars’ yet there is a hidden message within the lives they lead. “Beauty
is truth, truth beauty.” This message is apparent whenever a ‘star’ is in the spotlight.
Society believes in the reality behind the message “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” We want
to believe this message is the key to all our happiness. We all at one time or another within
our lives have tried to live according to our favorite celebrity, just as Keats idolized the
people projected on his urn. Keats life unfortunately ended before it ever began yet he was
able to realize despite his heartbreak and illness, that this is almost never true. No matter
how perfect things appear to be on the outside, it’s totally different when you attempt to
put the other person shoes on and takes a stroll. In other words, things are not what they
always appear to be.
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