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Thread: Ode On a Grecian Urn - Please Help!!

  1. #1
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    Talking Ode On a Grecian Urn - Please Help!!


    I am currently writing an essay on this poem but the only thing i can find out online and in books is that really
    Keats is saying that the picture on the urn will always be beautiful and fresh but it will never change.

    If you could please help me try to understand this poem in more depth i would really appreciate it!!

    Many thanks,


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    This is a poem that like a polished gem has a great many facets, and has been the subject of much study and debate. So, just to get the ball rolling:

    The Grecian Urn depicts a world of beauty and human passions that are set in art. The Lover on the urn pictures something that cannot fade. In the poem there is a development of the idea of the supremacy of ideal art over nature since it is captured for all time on the urn it is an unchanging expression of perfection. Yet there is a note of sadness in the fourth stanzas last three lines

    And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

  3. #3
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    I agree with Warwick's assessment.

    Though I've always found the images on the urn to be quite disturbing. The first image seems to be a virgin girl being chased by men, perhaps to be raped, there is no reason to think their "ecstasy" is consensual. Then you have the villagers gathering for a sacrifice of a heifer, leaving the town forever empty.

    The speaker's tone seems to be reverent and positive throughout, which makes me question the judgment of this speaker and what he thinks is real beauty.

  4. #4
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    I agree with the above assessments on "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and further want to emphasize the personification Keats implied upon the urn in referring to it as a "historian," with a story to tell, so to speak. Keats views this object as an almost material-in-consistency sage with tales to tell, much like in ancient Greco-Roman myth, which Keats (among other Romantics) almost incessantly alluded to, always containing a philosophical moral, concluding with the aesthetic-based thesis, "[b]eauty is truth, truth beauty." In such an aesthetic ode in appreciation of the visual arts, Keats witnesses the frozen tales imprinted upon the dedicated urn, nearly creating a plot for each scene, reading the individuals' expressions, almost synesthesetically hearing the melodies of the instruments displayed, all from the most patient of storytellers, the historian, the recorder, the projector, "still unravish'd," the urn itself.
    The philosophical turn of the ode as declaring "[b]eauty is truth, truth beauty" has undergone much debate as to Keats' intention, and taking one back to the beginning of th ode, I feel, seems of the greatest importance in recognizing the urn as an inevitably subjective historian, indeed a recorder, yet still biased one way or another by the urn's original inscriptor, as even Thucydides must have carried some subjective perception in recording the Peloponnesian War. Presenting historical truth in a beauteous manner, nonetheless, seems what allured Keats the most to this urn, and such a statement as making beauty and truth synonymous popularized the Romantics (first and second generations) of having somewhat of an obsession with aesthetics. From this perspective, truth seems drastically more true when presented in a beautiful manner.
    Ode on a Grecian Urn

    Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery 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 endear'd,
    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, unwearièd,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
    More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
    For ever panting, and for ever young;
    All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
    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 say'st,
    'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

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    Wink hi all a newee i am

    I just would like to highlight the finale of this poem where Keats states
    " Truth is beauty, beauty truth". Keats builds towards this conviction through thr thorough description of the images recurring.. and thus does he attempt to set his conviction in perfection in the context of the Grecian Urn.

  6. #6
    Registered User Dipen Guha's Avatar
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    This Ode was written in May 1819, probably soon after the "Ode to a Nightingale". It is noteworthy that the poet tells that it is "On" and not "To" a Grecian Urn: which indicates to us that the meditation is conveyed directly to the reader and not addressed to the urn and then "overheard" by the reader. Scholars have searched unsuccessfully for the original of the urn that Keats describes in the poem, for the urn was merely in Keats' imagination--he did not have an actual urn before him when he wrote the poem. His descriptions seem to be composite of several urns and from sections of the Elgin marbles which he was going to see frequently about this time. He himself made a tracing of the Sosibius Vase which is extant, and Lord Holland's urn has something that is similar to his description on one side. Other vases which he may have had in his consciousness are the Towenley vase in the British museum and the Borghese Vase, an engraving of which he may have seen.
    Unlike the song of the nightingale which is independent of human need, the Grecian Urn is a human artifact potentially waiting for appreciation and thereby for fulfilment. Keats apostrophises the urn as the "still unravished bride of quietness", and "the foster-child of silence and low time", yet he is sure that the urn has much to express--the flowery tale may be just mythic stories of which the carvings are representations, and these tales themselves like all myths may have deep meaning stemming from man's pre-history, for the gods and men depicted on the urn seem to belong to the gods of Arcady, when deities and mortals dwelt in fellowship on the earth. The urn may also have an inscribed "leaf-fringed legand"--a verse of a line or two--conveying a message to future times. Then Keats looks more closely at the carvings, and finds men or gods pursuing a maiden who struggles to escape as Daphne from Apollo, while another scene seems to depict music and dancing in ecstacy. But keats does not attempt to unravel the myth through his reason. He seems to withdraw from pressing the enquiry, for that must come through the imagination, which may rest content with self-knowledge, exercising negative capability, when he is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without irritable reaching after fact and reason.
    Art preserves the beauty of the world of process and gives it a permanence belonging to a world of eternity. Life belongs to the world of process of time, Art to the world of eternity.

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    I know I am replying to a possibly 'dead' thread, but if you are still writing there is something nobody has yet mentioned.

    the main thing to remember, Keats was a pervert, who, according to a top Keatsian critic, was always 'Frigging his imagination'.

    The image on the Urn that Keats refers to is an image of the Bachae, i would not usually recommend Wikipedia for any Scholarly work, but having read it, it seems the most unobtrusive explanation.

    Keats Ode to a Grecian urn then can be said to contain dark undertones, I will not tell you exactly what they are, as I feel finding them and decoding them is half the work of writing any essay, however, do look at these lines in particular.

    'Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness'

    'O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede (think immature, breed...)
    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' (rape)

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