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Thread: The greatest poem of all time?

  1. #1
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    The greatest poem of all time?

    Keats died this day (23 February) in 1812. I thought it would be an appropriate time to have a discussion about his work - what are your thoughts?

    As a tribute to him, I thought I would post one of his most famous poems, some have called it the greatest English poem of all time. What do you think?

    Ode on a Grecian Urn

    Thou still unravished bride of quietness!
    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flow'ry tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
    What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
    What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
    What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

    Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
    Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
    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!

    Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
    And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
    More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
    For ever panting and for ever young;
    All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

    Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
    To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
    Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
    And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
    What little town by river or sea-shore,
    Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
    And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

    O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
    With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
    As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,
    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    I do love that poem, and I love Keats. But the greatest English poem of all time? I don't know about that. In fact I think I like "Ode To A Nightingale" better by Keats.

    Which are your favorite lines, Rintrah?
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  3. #3
    weer mijn koekjestrommel Schokokeks's Avatar
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    If you like Keats, Rintrah, you should take a look at his letters if you haven't done so already. I think Keats was "at least" the greatest letter-writer of all time .
    As far as his poetry is concerned, I would prefer Wordsworth over Keats, but poems of the Romantic period in general have their very own charm. I find it very astonishing that both Keats and Shelley died so young, yet had already contributed greatly to the spirit of their age .
    "Where mind meets matter, both should woo!"
    Currently reading:
    * Paradise Lost by John Milton

  4. #4
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    This is my favorite stanza from the poem:
    Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
    And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
    More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
    For ever panting and for ever young;
    All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
    Ah, to be forever young.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  5. #5
    weer mijn koekjestrommel Schokokeks's Avatar
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    Talking of the Romantic poets, is that not Byron in your signature, Virgil ?
    I've never read anything by him, but would like to do so soon, to see what that Byronmania at that time was all about .
    "Where mind meets matter, both should woo!"
    Currently reading:
    * Paradise Lost by John Milton

  6. #6
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schokokeks View Post
    Talking of the Romantic poets, is that not Byron in your signature, Virgil ?
    I've never read anything by him, but would like to do so soon, to see what that Byronmania at that time was all about .
    Yes it is. I took on a signature "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know" which is a phrase that was applied to Byron during his life. I took it on becuase i got in trouble with a certain person here recently. So I put his photo here too.

    His poetry has not stood up with time as with the other Romantic poets of his era. His good poetry is narrative, not lyric, and the Romantics have come to be known for their lyric poetry. But still he's a fun read. Don Juan and Child Harold's Pilgramige are works I've read parts of. They are a little long to read entirely, unless you have to. Give it a try. I wonder if we have it here electronically?

    Edit: Just checked. We have them both.
    Last edited by Virgil; 02-23-2007 at 04:58 PM.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  7. #7
    weer mijn koekjestrommel Schokokeks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    Yes it is. I took on a signature "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know" which is a phrase that was applied to Byron during his life. I took it on becuase i got in trouble with a certain person here recently.
    I must have missed it, and I still find you are a very civil person .
    But Byron must have been quite a bad boy, I think he even chose exile in Southern Europe .

    His poetry has not stood up with time as with the other Romantic poets of his era. His good poetry is narrative, not lyric, and the Romantics have come to be known for their lyric poetry.Don Juan and Child Harold's Pilgramige are works I've read parts of.
    Not being a huge fan of poetry, I've always liked narrative poems better (Milton, Pope,...), because I find them not that "coded". I'll take a look at Don Juan, then, I've heard quite a number of people talk about it.
    "Where mind meets matter, both should woo!"
    Currently reading:
    * Paradise Lost by John Milton

  8. #8
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    Yes I've read Don Juan - it is quite 'coded' in the sense that Byron pokes fun at his critics such as Robert Southey, and some contextual knowledge is needed to appreciate the spirit and wittiness of his retort. However, I prefer his Manfred (a dramatic poem), and may appeal more to you, Schokokeks, given that you enjoy narrative works.

    I also prefer Wordsworth to Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron. I'll have to take a look at Keats' letters - not done so yet. But the Grecian Urn is an outstanding poem - I love the placement of oppositions, done with such skill that they slip by almost unnoticed. The first stanza begins with 'unravished bride' (itself perhaps an oxymoron?) and ends with 'wild ecstasy'.
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  9. #9
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    BTW, noticed the Byron image, virgil. Did you know he had one of the largest recorded brains, at over four pounds??
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  10. #10
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    Sorry - things come to me in stages . . . I remember now reading about Keats' notion of negative capability, the concept that the poet has a capacity to exist in a state of un-resolvedness. It's been years since my Keats lectures, but I remember the discussion of this poem as an example of this. There is no clear resolve - there is no attempt to reconcile the notion of the silent urn containing wild ecstasy - also the happy happy love against the notion that the lover cannot ever kiss. This is not really resolved, but held in a state, as it were, of constant stillness. All the sacrifice, the love, the fruit, the barrenness, the pipes and timbrels, the silence, the eternally green boughs, and the parched tongue, all from a vase! These are paradoxes that remain open and active, and I think this willingness to allow such oppositional forces to remain is the basic energy pf the poem.
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  11. #11
    weer mijn koekjestrommel Schokokeks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rintrah View Post
    I prefer his Manfred (a dramatic poem), and may appeal more to you, Schokokeks, given that you enjoy narrative works.
    Noted it down, thank you for the suggestion .

    Quote Originally Posted by rintrah
    Did you know he had one of the largest recorded brains, at over four pounds??
    Sadly there's not much scientific proof for the mere size of a brain to correlate with the intelligence of the bearer .

    Quote Originally Posted by rintrah
    All the sacrifice, the love, the fruit, the barrenness, the pipes and timbrels, the silence, the eternally green boughs, and the parched tongue, all from a vase!
    Yes, that what I find remarkable, too. Keats must have suffered severe ecstasies when walking through, say, the British Museum . I remember there's one poem by Keats praising Chapman's Renaissance translation of Homer, which would make modern editors laugh out loud, containing neologisms such as "They honey-sweetness-giving-minds-wine filled ..." , but somehow must have appealed to Keats.

    In case you're interested in Romantic theory of poetry, I remember having liked Shelley's Defence of Poetry. You could compare with Keats's notion, you seem quite firm there .

    Oh, I just noticed, your avatar looks like something by Blake ?
    Last edited by Schokokeks; 02-24-2007 at 08:21 AM.
    "Where mind meets matter, both should woo!"
    Currently reading:
    * Paradise Lost by John Milton

  12. #12
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schokokeks View Post
    Sadly there's not much scientific proof for the mere size of a brain to correlate with the intelligence of the bearer
    Absolutely! I think I read Anatole France's brain was half the weight, but clearly not half the intelligence!


    Quote Originally Posted by Schokokeks View Post
    In case you're interested in Romantic theory of poetry, I remember having liked Shelley's Defence of Poetry. You could compare with Keats's notion, you seem quite firm there
    I have some interest in Romanticism (it's not really my field), but I shall look up Shelley's work. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schokokeks View Post
    Oh, I just noticed, your avatar looks like something by Blake ?
    Yes, and my name too - Rintrah is Blake's prophet of revolutionary wrath, and the image is plate 8 from Europe: A Prophecy of 1794. I enjoyed Blake in my undergrad studies.
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  13. #13
    Stélé
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    Truly, this is a magnificent poem, but I am not a supporter of those who advocate that it is the greatest English poem of all time, or even the greatest as composed by Keats.

    To support a quote above me, I prefer 'Ode to a Nightingale" much more than the Grecian Urn. I believe that the nightingale itself, such a representation of solemn and twilight beauty, is more true to the overall nature of Keats' poetry.

    I would have to say that my favorite Keats poem is The Fall of Hyperion.

  14. #14
    Registered User rintrah's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dreadnought View Post
    I would have to say that my favorite Keats poem is The Fall of Hyperion.
    Interesting choice, Dreadnought. Tell us what you like about it.
    Now comes the night of Enitharmons joy!
    Who shall I call? Who shall I send?

  15. #15
    Stélé
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    Quote Originally Posted by rintrah View Post
    Interesting choice, Dreadnought. Tell us what you like about it.
    Well, it is not a piece which I have read in its entirety recently, but I shall try to remember its most attractive features.

    Of chief importance to me is the fact that it is not simply an allegorical narrative, as "Hyperion" is. Instead, it is a dream presented to the narrator through somewhat otherworldly means. I love this aspect of it; the realism and power of dreams conveyed to us through the driving force behind all of us, our Muse.

    Yet more than this, I am able to feel so much of the atmosphere that Keats describes in this poem. The shady, misty vale that Keats describes is so vivid to me, and he uses such beautiful language in describing the almost tangible yet still ethereal presence surrounding Saturn and his emotional struggle. The absolute feeling of loss, presented to strongly and beautifully, is noticeable throughout the entire narrative.

    Finally, in Hyperion, Keats has created an immense and complex figure which, from this first time I read it, has stricken me as absolutely awe-inspiring. The last of the Titans, not willing to give up his throne. Hyperion holds within him such a power, such a dignified grace. A majesty that the other titans in the dreams are not even capable of.

    Truly, "On he flares."

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