Ode on a Grecian Urn Summary The poem
Ode on a Grecian Urn
The poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats, begins as the persona directly addresses the urn as an “unravished bride of quietness” and “foster child of silence and slow time” as it sits quietly for centuries without undergoing any changes. The first two metaphors “Grecian Urn” and “quietness” each involve the idea of quietness or silence because the urn relates its story in pictures rather than words. The persona further says, Sylvan historian who is unable to express “A flowery tale,”more sweetly than our rhymes. They are Gods or mortals or of both which carved or painted on the urn? He raised questions, who are these reluctant maidens? What is this mad pursuit? Why the struggle to escape? What is the explanation for the presence of musical instruments? Why this mad ecstasy?
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter” this is how the second stanza of the poem started. Imagined melodies are lovelier than those heard by human ears. Therefore the poet urges the musician pictured on the urn to play on. “Therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared.” His song can never end nor the trees ever shed their leaves. Though the lover on the urn can never win a kiss from his beloved, there is no need to grieve because his beloved can never lose her beauty, she never faded away. She will forever be fair. She will remain forever your love. “Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” Happy are the trees on the urn, for they can never lose their leaves. Happy is the musician forever playing songs forever new. The lovers on the urn enjoy a love forever warm, forever panting, and forever young, far better than actual love than human love, which eventually brings frustration and dissatisfaction at the end.
In the third stanza, he addresses to the boughs and the melodist, “Ah, happy, happy bough!”, “And, happy melodist” by saying your plants are always happy, your musicians are never tired. Your plants are always in spring, “Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu.” In reality, there is a change of seasons every year that we have to go through four seasons but your plants always in the spring season. So spring can never say goodbye to you. And you musicians are always playing with your pipe, always happy, not getting tired. The love, here, is forever warm.
Keats started the fourth stanza by raising a question “Who are these coming to the sacrifice?” he moves from one thing to another in each stanza. Here he asserts, who are the people coming to perform a sacrifice? To what altar does the priest lead a garlanded heifer? What town do they come from? That town will forever remain silent and deserted. Likewise in the last stanza, Keats says, after our generation is gone, you will still be here, “a friend to man” telling him that beauty is truth and truth is the beauty that is all he knows on earth and all he needs to know.
John Keats is regarded as one of the central figures in the Romantic Movement, and Ode on a Grecian Urn is considered one of his greatest works. The poem revolves around what Keats observes on the urn himself. Grecian urns were commonly illustrated with scenes or subjects that varied depending on the era and style in which a given urn was created. Some of these urns depict scenes from religious and ritual ceremonies similar to the one described in this ode. Each stanza in this ode, Keats focuses on the beauty of art. He argues that the urn is a true work of art because it reflects a truth and beauty that will remain forever until the end. Melodies he imagines from the pipes on the urn are more “sweeter” because they are always to be imagined. Melodies that are actually heard in real life might be flawed and only exist for a certain amount of time, that’s why he says, imagined melodies are lovelier than those heard by human ears.
In the second stanza, we see a youth in a grove playing a musical instrument and hoping it seems for a kiss from his beloved. The scene elicits some thoughts on the function of art from Keats. Art gives a kind of permanence to reality. Art, basically has that selective capability, that freedom, which may not be in reality. Art preserves beauty at the moment. And Keats focuses these things in his writings as well. The youth, the maiden and the musical instrument are, as it mere, caught and held permanently by being pictured on the urn. And, Keats can take pleasure in the thought that the music will play on forever, and although the lover can never receive the desired kiss, the maiden can never grow older nor lose any of her beauty. Keats further says that the love that they enjoy is superior to human love which leaves behind “a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed a burning forehead and a parching tongue.” The aftermath of human love is satiety and dissatisfaction. In these two stanzas, Keats imagines a state of perfect existence which is represented by the lover’s pictures on the urn.
The final stanza contains the beauty-truth equation. In the stanza, Keats make two main comments on his urn. The urn teases him out of thought, as does eternity; that is, the problem of the effect of a work of art on time and life, or simply of what art does, is a perplexing one, as it the effort to struggle with the concept of eternity. The second thought is the truth-beauty equation. Through the poet’s imagination, the urn has been able to preserve a temporary and happy condition in permanence. All you know on earth and all you need to know in regard to beautiful works of art, whether urns or poems about urns, is that they give an inkling of the unchanging happiness to be realized in the hereafter. When Keats says “that is all ye know on earth,” he is postulating on existence beyond earth.
Talking about the technical aspect, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” consists of five, ten line stanzas, each following a single rhyme scheme that combines the quatrain of a Shakespearean sonnet with the sestet of a Petrarchan sonnet. Thus, the first four lines of each stanza rhyme abab while the predominant rhyme scheme of the last six lines is cdecde.