Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ode on a Grecian Urn ( poem) John Keats

Ode on a Grecian Urn                                                                                                          John Keats

John Keats is one of the greatest Romantic poets in English literature.  He believes that Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth.  He also said that “A Thing of Beauty is a Joy forever”.  His poems are monuments of painstaking craftsmanship and supreme aestheticism. A victim of frustrated love, much of his poetry is preoccupied with love themes. So he is known as the poet of love. His place in English literature is second only to William Shakespeare.  Some of his poems show his ability to create imaginary world out of ordinary experiences. Ode On a Grecian Urn is a fine example for this.  This poem was inspired by Keat’s experience of Greek sculpture.  He was a great admirer of Greek art. The poem is a philosophical reflection on the relationship between art and life, between immortality and mortality of existence and the Platonic idea of Truth and Beauty. To the poet art, which is a product of the intellect, is inspired by Nature. It creates an ideal world, far above the world of common life where man suffers from disease, sorrow, pain, poverty and death.

2.  The sight of the sculptured images on the Grecian Urn inspires a sense of wonder in the poet.  He calls the Urn as a bride wedded to quietness and remaining a virgin.  She is the foster child of Time and Silence. Time, the great destroyer has preserved its beauty. It is a timeless thing. Since it represents life, it is a product of time. At the same time it is immortal.  The Urn is a ‘silver historian’ because it gives us a history of the pastoral life of the ancient world. The beautiful woodland scene engraved on it tells us a story far more sweetly than any poem. The poet wonder if the figures are humans or gods. It could be both. He sees the maidens persued by their lovers and musicians playing pipes and timbrels.  Their ecstasy becomes his.

3.  One by one Keats takes up the themes engraved on the Urn.  At first he sees a musician under a tree playing his pipe. The poet cannot hear the “unheard melodies”. So he imagines that “unheard melodies” are far sweeter than heard melodies. The musical instruments engraved on the Urn are not playing to the “sensual ear” but they play to the soul in us. The tree is also immortal. It will never shed its leaves.  So, the nature and human beings engraved on the Urn are happy and happy. Another scene is a bold lover trying to kiss his beloved. He will never kiss her, but he need not worry about it because his sweet heart will never grow old and his love for her will never die. They are forever, loving each other and they are forever young and beautiful. The images of the tree, the piper and the lover represent nature, art and life. All these images engraved on the marble urn tell us about the relationship between nature and life. The imperfections of life are dissolved in Art. Then the poet describes a scene of pagan sacrifice engraved on the Urn. A priest is seen leading a heifer to a decorated altar and a large crowd of people following the priest to attend the ritual. The little town by the sea or river is emptied forever because the people have gone to attend the sacrifice.  Those streets will remain silent forever.  This scene is solemn and serious as opposed to the earlier scenes, which are happier than others.  Keats uses this image to suggest the idea that arts gives delight even when it deals with tragic and solemn things.

4.  Addressing the Grecian Urn again, the poet observes that its message to humanity is important. The images of the Grecian Urn silently laughs at humanity, because we are mortals and we suffer from disease, pain and sorrow. Our life is even shorter than even the life of the lightening. The images of the Grecian urn are immortal and tell us that “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. Beauty and Truth are identical. In this poem, Keats pays glorious tribute to the immortality of art. Beauty dies soon, but Arts makes it immortal. Art is great because it is unaffected by the sorrow and the misery of the world of reality. In this poem Keats shows us that art can capture and immortalize one fleeting moment of beauty from real life.  Human life and happiness are brief, but art enshrines them with an ideal beauty that gives them eternity.  Any beauty, which is not truthful and any truth, which is not beautiful are of no practical importance to mankind.
Annotate the following
1.      Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time
These lines are quoted from John Keat’s famous poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Here the poet address the Grecian urn, comparing it to a bride.

“Unravished bride” means a bride not spoiled by the hand of man. Her chastity is still preserved. The phrase not only stresses the unspoiled beauty of the urn, but also brings us the point that the urn is spiritually beautiful. No one can understand the secret of its wonderful beauty. Again the poet address the urn as “the foster-child of silence and slow time” because it is absolutely silent and Time, the great destroyer has not destroyed the urn, but also protected it like his own child.  But at the same time a work of art is the child of a great artist and therefore the urn is the child of the artist. That is why the poet says that the urn is the foster child of the Time. Although centuries have been passed by, the work of art on the Urn is still not spoiled by time. So the movement of time is slow for the urn.

2.      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?
3.      Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
………..the spirit ditties of no tone.

4.      Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst no leave
Thy song, no ever can those trees be bare
5.      Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning………………grieve
6.      That leaves a high sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue
7.      Thou, sillent form; dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity……….Cold Pastoral!
8.      Beauty is truth, truth beauty,- that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’

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