Keats studied to became a surgeon but later abandoned this choice for literature, he was in love with Fanny Brawn but for his illness and economic problems didn’t marry her. His odes are: To a Nightingale (usignolo), on a Grecian urn, to Autumn, On Melancholy, Hyperion. His ballads are: Lamia, The Eve of St Agnes and La Belle Dame Sans Merci. In the last phase of his life he went to Italy and died in Rome. In his letters he says “negative capability” when he looks an object so closely that he seems to lose his identity. Keats is the most important representing of the second generation of romantic poets, with Shelley and Byron, but he’s very original. He died very young for tuberculosis, he wasn’t very famous during his life, he was appreciated by Matthew Arnold, a Victorian critic, who says “he’s with Shakespeare” because he meant he was a genius. He was in love with a girl but didn’t marry her because of his illness and lack of money. His grave is in Rome, and on it there’s written “Here lies one whose name was written in water”, this expresses the caducity of life, because it’s impossible write in water, it deletes everything with his flow .
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN
The poet took inspiration after a visit to the exhibition of Greek artefacts, here he saw a marmoreal composition of "Elgin Marbles" at the British Museum. The Greek urn described in the poem seems to exist only in Keats’s imagination.
The ode celebrates the immortality of the urn, he talks about the immortality also in other his poems, like in “Endymion” he says “ A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”, so he celebrates immortality of the beauty.
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, Tu ancora inviolata sposa della tranquillità,
Thou, foster-child of silence and slow time Tu, figlia adottiva del silenzio e del lento tempo,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express Storica silvestre, che puoi così esprimere
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: Una storia fiorita più dolcemente che la nostra rima:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape Che leggenda ornata di foglie copre la tua forma
Of deities or mortals, or of both Di dei o mortali , o di entrambi
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? In Tempe o le valli dell’Arcadia?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? Che uomini o dei sono questi? Che donzelle ritrose?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? Che folle inseguimento? Che lotta per scappare?
In the first stanza of the poem Keats addresses to the urn, he tells it’s still virgin and will be for ever like this, so the poet wants underline the eternity of the art’s beauty, that’s cold, it’s like a static thing, we don’t feel passion for the art, while we feel passion for life’s beauty, but to the contrary beauty decays.
At the third line he says “Sylvan historian” because on the urns were represented historical events, in particular, on the urn he’s describing there’re represented: An Arcadian landscape, characters like man, or god, pursuit, pipes, timbrels. Besides at the fourth line he says “A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme”, with this he means imagination is more persuasive than words.
Heard memories are sweet , but those unheard I ricordi uditi sono dolci, ma quelli non uditi
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; Sono più dolci; perciò, voi soavi flauti , continuate a suonare;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, Non all’orecchio corporeo, ma, più accattivanti,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: Suonate allo spirito melodie senza suono:
Fair youth, beneath the t rees, thou canst not leave Leggiadro giovane, sotto gli alberi, tu non puoi lasciare
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; La tua canzone, né possono mai quegli alberi essere spogli;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Audace Amante, mai, tu non puoi mai baciare,
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, Ella non può sbiadire, sebbene tu non abbia la tua felicità;
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! Per sempre l’amerai, ed ella sarà bella!
In the second stanza of the poem Keats says melodies are sweet but melodies unheard are sweeter, as Leopardi’s theory of vague and indefinite. On the urn are represented static images of musicians that play pipes and there’s an image of a young man under trees that can’t leave his song as trees won’t be ever without leaves, and there’s a young man near kissing a girl. All these figure are fixed in the eternity, they will not go on.
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed Ah, felici , felici rami! che non potete perdere
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; Le vostre foglie, ne mai di re addio alla Primavera;
And, happy melodist, unwearied, , felice musicista, inesausto,
For ever piping songs for ever new; Per sempre suonando canzoni sempre nuove;
More happy love! more happy, happy love! Più felice amore! più felice, felice amore!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, Per sempre appassionato ed ancora da essere goduto,
For ever panting, and for ever young; Per sempre anelante, e per sempre giovane;
All breathing human passion far above, Di ogni palpitante passione umana molto al di sopra,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. Una fronte ardente, e una lingua secca.
In the third stanza of the poem there’s the figure of eternal spring, where trees will not loose their
leaves, a musician will sing for ever.
In the fourth stanza there’s represented on the urn a religious procession led by a priest, the procession takes place in a countryside because he says little town is empty. In this stanza the predominant atmosphere is sadness, solitude, because there are words like: peaceful, emptied, silent, desolate.
In the fifth stanza is divided in two parts:
The quatrain: the poet returns from his journey of imagination to real life; now he considers the urn as an object and not as a witness from the past; its beauty can help man to accept his difficult life.2. The sextet: the poet sums up the result of his experience with an aesthetic consideration; it starts with the contrast between the urn and mankind and ends with the poet’s concept of art and imagination.So in this stanza there’s philosophical content, in final couplet he summarizes the content: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, the message is: the poetry and beauty can awake our imagination and they have eternity , beauty can be identified with truth, this is a UNIVERSAL reflection.