Keats’s life was overshadowed by poor health, family problems, unhappy life, lack of money and premature death. He died of consumption when he was only 26, after having lost his parents and some relatives through the same illness and feeling that probably that would be his destiny too. He received a regular education and then was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary, but he felt that it was not the job for him and decided he would be a poet despite his economic insecurity. Keats’s works weren’t highly acclaimed during his life time, but they received great appreciation after his death. Considering the everlasting fame he received thanks to poems written only from 1818 to 1821, we must recognize him as one of the best English poets.
In his poetry the search for immortality is the major theme. Keats was deeply attracted by Greek art and after he visited the British Museum the world of Ancient Greece became a source of continuous inspiration and a presence in his poetic production. In the Arcadian world he found the purest beauty, which was the source of all his inspiration. According to his concept Keats came to the conclusion that “A think of beauty is a joy forever”, since beauty is eternal and will never be spoilt by the passing of time. He considered poetry the means through each beauty can be understood as a solace.
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN: this is Keats’ best known poem, it Is in the form of an ode celebrating the beautiful scenes which adorn an ancient Greek urn. The poem’s appeal, however, is due not just to the beauty of the scenes it describes but also to the fact that it deals with the themes of life and death and their relation to art. Keats is fascinated by the fact that art is able to present an ideal world because it can freeze actions and emotions: the lover depicted on the urn will never actually reach the girl he is following, the pipers will never end their song, the streets of the little town will always be deserted and silent. This ode is a complex meditation on the relationship between art and life and a celebration of the perfect beauty of art; art is superior to life because the passions experienced in life are intense but subject to decay, in fact in real life it is impossible to love forever and beauty decays with time while the characters on the urn are forever fixed in their moment of perfection. Love is a central theme in the poem; the love depicted on the urn is perfect since it is “for ever warm and still to be enjoy’d”, whereas human love is destined to perish and end with death. The message that Keats wants to convey in this ode is that life and human passions are mortal while art is immortal; beauty and truth identify; the only real knowledge that is possible for humankind is the one obtained through art.
“Ode on a Grecian urn” is considered Keats’ masterpiece, a work different in style and content from most Romantic poems. He uses the classical form of the ode to celebrate a beautiful artistic object, which reflects the perfection of the classical world which produced it. Art is able to preserve the perfect beauty of a specific moment or situation in the scenes depicted on the urn: the girl’s beauty will never fade, the passion of the lover and the pleasures of music will always be the same. The perfection of art is superior to the imperfection of the physical world and it only through art that man can fulfill his desire for permanence.