Ode on a Grecian Urn
Ode on a Grecian Urn is a poem made up by five stanzas. The whole poem deals with a Grecian Urn and its description as a perfect work of art. Every stanza describes a part of the Urn, its themes can be found in several urns in museum, but all of the themes together in one urn seem to exist only in Keats' imagination.
In the whole poem, the author addresses personified elements of the urn: in the first stanza he addresses a natural landscape in spring, which symbolizes the rebirth of nature, which is now alive. The poet addresses the urn, which is personified, he is looking at it and naming the images carved on it. The poet uses three metaphors to address the urn: “unravished bride of quietness” in line 1, “foster child of silence and slow time” in line 2, which both belong to the semantic area of quietness, then “Sylvian historian” in line 3, which belongs to the semantic area of timelessness. From line 5 to 10 the poem introduces a world where men and Gods lived together, and the key words are “wild ecstasy”, which imply the passage to irrationality, feelings and imagination and also imply the feeling of sublime.
In the second stanza's first line the poet underlines the fact that the expectation of pleasure is far superior to pleasure itself, indeed he states “heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”, he introduces men playing the bagpipe, and since the urn is still they will never stop, although the music is not perceived through the sense of hearing, but it goes directly into the spirit, as the poet claims “not to sensual ear, but, more endear'd, pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone”, indeed he imagines any music, since he doesn't hear it. The expectations are much better than the fulfilment, because the former are imaginary, and therefore not consumed, while the latter is real, and accordingly fleeting and ephemeral. The theme introduced is the difference between reality and imagination, which is also conveyed through the image of the lovers: the poet addresses a lover, who is immortalized before kissing a girl. This is symbolical, because in this way pleasure will never be fulfilled since the initial pleasure is lost once experienced, therefore being immortalized before kissing makes the moment perfect. Since they are immortalized at that time, they will love each other forever and she will remain beautiful.
At the beginning of the third stanza the poet praises spring, seen as the perfect season, while at the end the poem deals with the physical passion experienced by the two lovers: human passion leaves men with an empty heart, because when one fulfills these passions, nothing stays to them. On the contrary the the unfulfilled passion of the Bold Lover's passion will stay forever. Physical sensation are indeed enjoyed only temporarily. In this stanza the words “happy” and “forever” are repeated six times, which emphasizes that the urn is eternal and provides prositivity.
Everything seems to be perfect, but the fourth stanza introduces a sense of melancholy in order to prepare the reader for the final dichotomy. The setting is an empty town, because all of his citizens have gone to a religious celebration, everyone has gone to a pious mourning sacrifice, so the town is no longer inhabited and its desolation cannot provide any answer to the poet's questions.
In the fifth stanza the poet's attitude towards the urn changes suddenly: at first it was perfect, it provided inspiration and sharpened the poet's imagination, while now he remembers that it is only a cold object, therefore the poem introduces a dichotomy, which will never find its solution. This is given through the statement “Cold Pastoral!” , which is also an example of negative capability, indeed the poet denies what he said before. Notwithstanding the poet states that when other generations will suffer, the urn will be a friend to them, because it doesn't matter if it's cold, since it is art, eternal and beautiful, immortal and divine. This is conveyed through the lines “When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe”. The dichotomy is not solved even though the poet states that Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, because art is the only source of knowledge.
Stylistically speaking this poem is full of invocations to personified elements, archaisms, elevated and urging tone, repetitions and run on lines.