Ode on a Grecian Urn
by John Keats
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-fring’d 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, unwearied,
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 this 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.”
Summary of Ode on a Grecian Urn
- Popularity of “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: Written by John Keats, a renowned romantic poet, this poem is a beautiful expression of the poet’s imagination about the artistic inscription done on an urn. It was first published in 1820, in Annals of the Fine Arts. The poem explores the beauty of art and nature. The poet addresses the piece of pottery from ancient Greek and exercises his expertise to explain the scenes carved on it. Since its publication, it gained immense popularity for its imaginative quality of thoughts expressed in it about art and beauty.
- “Ode on a Grecian Urn” as a Representative of Life and Beauty: The poet presents urn to understand the transience of life and the quest for beauty. The speaker questions the engraving on the urn and then explicitly explains the images of maidens, lovers, pilgrims and other creatures carved on it. To him, these people are immortal and free from the clutches of destructive time and fears of demise.
- Major Themes in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: Beauty of art, destructive nature of time and transience of life are some of the prominent themes of this ode. Although the urn has passed down through ages, it is unchanged, perfect and silent. Keats also presents the enchanting, perfect and immortal world of the urn, as he discusses the destructive nature of the real world and its desires, which cannot be quenched. The famous philosophical doctrine “truth is beauty, beauty truth” conveys an important message that real beauty of the things are in its permanence. He also says that truth is the ultimate beauty of the world, and never perishes.
Analysis of Literary Devices in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Literary devices are techniques that the writers use to convey their ideas, feelings, and message to the readers. Keats has also used some literary devices in this poem to adore the beauty of urn. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line of poetry such as the sound of /l/ in “Will silent be; and not a soul to tell” and /n/ sound in “All breathing human passion far above.”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. Keats has used a lot of symbols in this poem such as, “plants and trees” are the symbols of youth and spring, “urn” itself is the symbol of time and life.
- Personification: Personification is to give human attributes to animate or inanimate objects. He has used personifications at several places in the poem. He addresses the urn as “bride of quietness” and “Sylvan historian”; “you soft pipe, play on” as if pipe and urn are humans that can perform certain acts.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same lines of poetry such as the sound of /o/ in “More happy love! more happy, happy love!” and /i/ sound in “Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede.”
- Metonymy: It is a figure of speech that replaces the name of things with something it is closely associated. Here, Keats links the man’s heart to his feelings of being “high sorrowful and cloyed.”
- Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part is meant to represent the whole. He has used this device to express the downside of natural love as he has used the words, “burning love” that is fever and “parching tongues” is thirst.
- Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of any word or expression in the initial part of the sentence such as ‘forever’ in the first two lines and ‘happy’ in the last two lines.
“Forever painting and forever young
Forever piping song forever new
A happy, happy boughs
More happy love, more happy happy love.”
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same line of poetry such as the sound of /n/ in “Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. And /t/ sound in “”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all.”
- Paradox: A paradox is a statement that may seem contradictory but can be true, or at least makes sense. He has used paradox in the second stanza, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard”, “Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone”, implying melodies are heard by the spirits and not by the ears.
- Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody from afar. The poet addresses the “urn,” the pictures painted on the urn and the lovers engraved on the urn.
The literary analysis unfolds that the poet has sketched a very vivid and realistic picture of the images painted on the urn using the above literary devices.
Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Ode: An ode is a traditional poem that was originally meant to be sung. The ancient Greeks used to sing their odes.
- Stanza: Stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem; each of them consists of ten lines.
- End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Keats has used end rhyme in this poem such as in the first and second lines of the first stanza the rhyming words are, “time”, “rhyme”, “both”, “loath.”
- Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABABCDCDECDE, then a variation of CDE DCE rhyme scheme throughout the poem with iambic pentameter.
- Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter consisting of five iambs. The poem comprises iambic pentameter such as, “thou still unravished bride of quiet”
Quotes to be Used
These lines can be used to express the enchanting beauty of nature that seems everlasting and forever green.
“Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu”