What Do Ode To A Nightingale And Ode To A Grecian Urn Have To Say About Superiority Of Art Over Life.
Mohsin Sharif Mrs. Long
12FC English Literature
What Do Ode To A Nightingale And Ode To A Grecian Urn Have To Say About Superiority Of Art Over Life
An ode is a form of lyric poetry where the poet reveals his personality. He shares his thoughts, feelings and opinions as we see through his eyes. Keats’s odes were very majestic and full of imagination.
The two poems Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn are very similar in their structure and message. Keats was tired of the mortal world and could only see the negative things in his life and so he looked for an escape. It wasn’t only his own pain that depressed him, it was the pain of his brother who was dying and we can see evidence of this in this quote;
“The weariness, the fever, the fret. Here, where men sit and hear each other groan. Where palsy shakes a few last grey hairs.”
Both Ode to a Nightingale and Ode to a Grecian Urn have similarities in them. In Ode to a Nightingale and Ode the speaker opens with a declaration of his own heartache. He feels as if he is numb and “as though of hemlock I had drunk,” he then addresses a nightingale he hears singing somewhere in the forest. He says in this opening stanza that he is not envious of the nightingale because it is so happy. Keats appreciated nature and saw it in some ways superior to humans.
In “Ode To A Grecian Urn” Keats imagine what the people on the urn were doing when the picture on the urn was painted. He reflects on the idea of a thing of beauty living on past his lifetime and he rejoices in the fact that the urn will never change. As you can see in both poems Keats’s glee is based on the fact that both the Nightingales song and the people on the Urn will never change and they will live on past his lifetime. This is the same for Keats’s poems; all the beauty within them live on past Keats’s lifetime and generation. Both poems convey immortality one through a living thing and one through a still object.
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We can almost sense that Keats uses beauty in his poems to escape the harsh life of the mortal world and he sees beauty in things that are not human. This is the case in both of the poems. Beauty is almost compensation for life and Keats fully appreciates beauty and escapes through writing about beauty.
He realises then at the end of the Ode to a Nightingale poem that escaping to the nightingale’s world is not as good as the mortal world. He bases this decision on the fact that in the mortal you experience both the good and bad intensely but this is better than no intense feeling at all. There is also a complicated ending in “Ode To A Grecian Urn” in the part he says “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - and that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.
Both poems convey similar messages about life but in perspective “Ode To A Grecian Urn” seems to differ in some ways depending on the way you see the poem. In this poem we realise that Keats also tries to tell us that being human and having ups and downs of life is in some ways better than being still and never changing. On the urn things stay the same, the people on the urn never get to fulfil their desires as much as they would wish to as they are still. In life we can even though there are consequences to every action humans take whether it is bad or good. Keats describes the urn as a “Cold Pastoral”. This is maybe because the urn is lifeless, and in some ways humans prefer things that change and things that are warm in comparison to a cold lifeless never changing urn. In the lifetime of this urn it will remain the same, unlike life which is always changing which can be seem as more preferable than being an urn.
Keats was attracted to the imaginary world of the urn as the places in the urn stayed the same forever. He wanted to be immortal like the Nightingale and the people on the Urn because he believed that as a human that as you get older life gets worse as a consequence of growing less attractive and dying and being frailer. In “Ode To A Nightingale” he says “Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,” but this contrasts with the statement in “Ode To A Grecian Urn,” which says “For ever wilt thou love and she be fair.”
As one poem is about something that is natural and one poem is about something that is a piece of art it is harder to say what each one says about art.
An urn is a vase like container made of pottery or stone with rounded bodies and narrow necks. They were widely used in ancient Greece and Rome to preserve the Ashes of the dead. As his brother was dying and many people he knew had already died it would not have been unusual for Keats to write about something like this. “Ode To A Grecian Urn” is an indoor poem; and deals with art and not nature. In this poem he also mentions the Elgin Marbles and other examples of Greek art. I think that Keats in some ways tries to convey the message that art is superior to human life. This is maybe because of the fact that things like the Urn do not change and the people in the Urn are always happy, much unlike human life although they are static. And because they cannot move it is in some ways not as superior to life as he might think.
“Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? And, little town, thy streets for evermore will silent be.”
In some ways this is an advantage but in other ways it is also a relatively bad thing. In human life we get to fulfill our desires even though it leads us to undesirable consequences. The fact that things cannot be experiences fully in the immortal world described in Ode To A Nightingale s also shown in Ode To A Grecian Urn. For example, when Keats describes a couple shown on the urn, they are frozen at a good time in their relationship but they will never get to go any further and reach maximum happiness as they are frozen. Keats again decides that he would prefer to have extreme feelings of good or bad rather than always feeling okay
“Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal.”
In Ode To A Nightingale, Keats wishes to flee the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to reach the birds state through alcohol, in the second stanza he longs for a “draught of vintage” to transport him out of himself. But soon after, he rejects the idea of being “charioted by Bacchus and his pards” and instead chooses to embrace “the viewless wings of poesy,” meaning he prefers to reach the birds state through his poetry as a means of escape rather than alcohol.
Keats thinks that being as clever as we are is more of a curse as having big brains allows us to see others suffering which upsets us and a big brain also causes us to worry about the consequences of our actions causing huge stress.
“Where but to think is to full of sorrow.”
Overall the message is quite clear in both poems. Keats in both poems is telling us about the misery of life, and he escapes this misery by writing poetry. He also tells us how he wants to be immortal in some ways like the Urn and the Nightingales song. But in some ways he is immortal as his poems are still widely read through out the world. In both poems Keats uses extensive amounts of imagination and imagery which helps the reader visualise and experience more the state Keats is in. he often uses nature and objects in his poems to create a sense of superiority for them. In both poems we get the feeling that the two tings the urn and the nightingale are in some ways superior to us but Keats also realises how being static isn’t as good as it may seem.