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Commentary on Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ulysses

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English Commentary Q7)Exploration of the language and imagery used in the poems 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by John Keats and 'Ulysses' by Lord Alfred Tennyson. 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by John Keats and 'Ulysses' by Lord Alfred Tennyson are both very well written poems. They are intricately written and filled with symbolism and imagery which enraptures the reader. Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is one of the most memorable and enduring of all poems to come from the Romantic Period. The poem is based on a series of paradoxes and opposites. Firstly the contradiction of the urn filled with dynamic life in spite of its frozen images and the fact that it is made of cold stone. Then, the contrast of the human and changeable with the immortal and permanent and the dispute of whether fantasy is better than reality. All in all it is a comparison of life versus art. Alfred Tennyson's 'Ulysses' is both a lament and an inspiring poem. Everyone has heard about the legendary greatness of Ulysses, however this poem talks about not Ulysses the hero, but Ulysses the man. In the poem Tennyson brings out the agony felt by Ulysses at his old age for being stuck at home instead of out discovering the world. Thus, while doing this his strong words inspire the readers to never stop their quest for knowledge and to live life to the fullest. ...read more.


In the last stanza it is almost as if the poet no longer feels the life depicted on the urn. He uses phrases like 'marble men' and 'cold pastoral', none of which have the previous passion in them. Yet the poet did earlier experience the life depicted on the urn and so he comments that the urn 'dost tease us out of thought'. By this the reader wonders if the poet meant that the urn draws us from a real to a fantasy world, where there is no imperfection but also no real fulfillment. Or if he means that he got so enraptured by the life on the urn that he forgot about reality. Or perhaps that the urn was a temporary escape from the problems of life. All of these explanations are plausible. The poet then calls the urn a 'friend to man', however due to its immortality any aesthetic connection formed between the urn and the poet is ultimately insufficient to satisfy him completely. The last two lines of the poem are probably the most perplexing and a lot of readers completely disregard them as a blemish on the beautiful poem. After the urn says that 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty' it is not clear who speaks the conclusion which is 'that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know'. Perhaps it is the poet speaking to the urn of its limitations. ...read more.


In the last lines of the poem Ulysses has left the readers with a strong message, a message urging us never to give up hope even when we are 'Made weak by time and fate' we should remain 'strong in will./To strive, to seek, to find,and not to yield.' This makes the reader look at Ulysses in a new light. We begin to wonder whether at the beginning of the poem was Ulysses complaining about his sorry state because he couldn't accept old age or was he trying to help the readers take notice of life and live it tp the fullest? In this light Ulysses seems to be someone who's thoughts are far ahead of the normal person. His quest for knowledge was unquenchable; maybe he was seeking a higher truth, something 'Beyond the utmost bound of human thought'. In the line 'for my purpose holds/ To sail beyond the sunset' definitely shows that he was seeking something beyond death. Thus this makes the reader think that maybe Ulysses' restlessness and dissatisfaction was not his faults but his greatest virtues. Thus, we see that in both poems the poets use strong language and imagery to evoke emotions from their readers. These poems are meant to inspire people and make them think about life as a beautiful thing which should not be wasted. In both poems the readers feel a connection with the speaker whether it is with Keats' internal conflict between fantasy and reality or the agony Ulysses experiences when he cannot continue on his quest for knowledge. ...read more.

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