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Ode on a grecian urn by John Keats - review

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Introduction

ODE ON A GRECIAN URN John Keats Keats was an important figure in early 19th century poetry and arguably wrote some of the most beautiful and moving poetry in the English language, despite dying at a very young age. Many of Keats' themes and concerns are quintessentially Romantic. Keats seems troubled by a quest for beauty and perfection and this is especially evident in his odes. These lyric poems were written between March and September 1819 and Keats died in 1821. In Ode On A Grecian Urn he has turned to art (unlike in In Ode To A Nightingale, Keats turned to the song of a bird in his quest for perfection.) Instead of identifying with the fluid expressiveness of music the speaker attempts to engage with the static immobility of sculpture. This is done by examining the pictures on the urn and by the speaker describing them and interpreting their meaning. Finding a paradox in nearly all that he finds, it is as if Keats examines both sides of every coin using the urn as a base of perfection and the mortal desires of man and the passage of time on nature as the flip side. The choice of an urn as the subject is in itself interesting, a container designed to keep things safe from decay. ...read more.

Middle

Line 26, 'For ever warm and still to be enjoyed', again reminds the reader that the pleasure is always in the anticipation. The results of going beyond this point are then given with 'breathing human passion' leaving '....a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, / A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.' The satisfaction of passion only leaves man with a wearied physicality which the urn will never have to experience. The fourth stanza returns to more images on the urn, this time of a sacrificial procession of people and the speaker begins to imagine the town which they have left empty. For the first time the speaker almost seems to relent on the perfection of never changing and, addressing the town directly, seems to hold real and generous feeling that it will always be 'desolate'. 'For ever more' in line 38 now refers to emptiness. It is as if the vivid, fresh mood of stanza three has been reversed. The speaker's interaction with the urn ends, however, as being 'frozen', it can offer no more answers and there is nothing more that it can reveal. In stanza five, the speaker 'takes a step backwards' and considers the urn in its entirety as an inanimate object and not in terms of the scenes on it. ...read more.

Conclusion

This seems to echo the sadness found in Grecian Urn. It is as if the joy of anticipation is overshadowed by the anticipation of the sadness which is sure to follow. In Grecian Urn, time always brings decay; here pleasure always leads to sorrow. These struggles however seem to become reconciled in Ode To Autumn. If the struggle with the urn's preservation was symbolic of Keats' own struggle to evade death, his overall feeling seems to have mellowed in his ode to autumn. The selection of this particular season implicitly takes up the themes of temporality, mortality and change but whereas the urn's perfection lay in being immune to the passage of time, autumn's seems to be that it embraces it. Despite the impending coldness and desolation of winter, autumn is a time of plenty and warmth in this ode. In the urn, the speaker found joy in it staying spring forever, but now autumn is told not to think of the songs of spring but to recognize the music it has of its own. Not only has time not damaged the beauty of nature, it has actually allowed more beauty to develop, beauty which could not be possible within the limitations of the urn. Even the understated sense of inevitable loss in the final line does no seem tragic as the birds will return as the seasonal cycle continues. Instead of joy always leading to sorrow, sorrow will now lead to joy. Hemant Sahi 1 ...read more.

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