“Ode on a Grecian urn” is a poem, which focuses on the contrast between the eternal beauty and perfection of art and the shortness of human pleasures. The urn was carved with a succession of beautiful scenes and figures and the way the poet describes it makes the reader understand that he cannot take his eyes off of it. The urn in this poem has presents two main scenes: 1) the crowd of fleeing maidens and pursuing men in lines 8-10, 2) the sacrificial procession on line 31-37.
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In the first stanza, the poet personifies the urn calling it a “Sylvan historian”. Moreover, the poet describes what is represented on the urn; it’s a “flowery tale” and an Arcadian landscape, which is the classical scenario of Pastoral poetry. He describes with a lot of details scenes of love and beauty, which will remain forever impressed on the urn. The first stanza is a description of the impression of the narrator when he looks at the with urn.. In the second part of the stanza, begins a series of questions by the author who has previously called the urn “Narrator”; he asks who are those figures represented on the urn itself, which tell legends, and from where they come from. In this stanza, hearing is the sense, which the author favors. This can be seen by the different expressions used, which characterizes this sense: “silence”, “pipes and timbrels”. Even the sense of sight is involved with “what leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape”. On the other hand, the questions are directly addressed to the author him-self, and they are strictly connected to a sylvan and mythological world, and not by chance the author uses the word “legend” to underline this connection.
In the second stanza, the narrator dwells on another image of the urn, which is a young man playing a flute. The narrator tells the boy that he should not be sad because he will never be able to kiss his beloved. In this stanza, at the very beginning, there is a reference to the sense of hearing, as in the first one: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter”, and continues with “soft pipes, play on”, “pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone”, “thy song” and “ear”. Moreover in this stanza the author uses expression that relate to the sense of touch: “never canst thou kiss”; meanwhile others relate to sight: “she cannot fade” and “she be fair”. But there is a further connection between these lines: this connection is eternity, since they will never be completed. Other actions related to eternity are: “thou canst not leave/ thy song”; “nor ever can those trees be bare”; “for ever wilt thou love”. In this stanza, on the urn is represented a musician, a “Bold lover”. And here comes the relation with eternity: this boy will never stop playing his music, but, at the same time, he will never be able to kiss the girl. He will love her forever and she will be beautiful forever.
In the third stanza, the narrator looks at the trees that surround the lovers, and is happy, because they do not lose their leaves. According to the author, love will never end, contrary from death, that slowly slides from the “the breathing human passion love” to the “a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed. A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.” On the urn there is an eternal spring: “nor ever bid the Spring adieu”. In this stanza the prevailing sense is hearing: “piping songs” and “melodist”. In this stanza, the poem becomes particularly joyful: “Ah, happy, happy boughs!”, “more happy love! More happy, happy love!”, “happy melodist”. These repetitions want to underline the happiness of the poet when he looks at the urn. Moreover, there are many references to passion which affects human beings: “All breathing human passion for above, / that leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d”. The other references to passion are: “for ever warm and still to be enjoy’d”, “for ever panting”, “a burning forehead, and a parching tongue”. Also in this stanza there is reference to eternity; in fact, the repetition of the expression “for ever” and “for ever young” both refer to eternity.
In the fourth stanza will be reviewed by another image that represents farmers leading a heifer to sacrifice. The author wonders where these people are going, and where they come from. In the fourth stanza, the scenario changes completely. The images represented on the urn no more portray scenes of love, but on the urn now is represented the religious solemnity of a “sacrifice”. Despite the brutality of the scene described, there are different terms which relate to quietness: “peaceful”, “pious morn” and “will silent be”.
In the last stanza, the narrator addresses the urn again, saying that it, like Eternity, “dost tease us out of thought.” He thinks that once that his generation is settled, the urn will remain, and preserve for the future generations this lesson: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” The narrator says that this is all the urn knows, and is everything it needs to know. In the fifth stanza what is described on the urn is an “attic shape”. Keats addresses the urn as a “cold pastoral” because it is only an inanimate thing, made of marble. But, at the same time, he also defines it as “a friend to man” comparing it to a tomb, which preserves the memory of the dead and gives men the possibility to became eternal through art. Again there is reference to sight: “Fair attitude”. Moreover, as in the previous stanzas there are references to eternity: “thou shalt remain” and “eternity”.
This poem is a iambic pentameter, formed by 5 stanzas each composed by a quatrain and a sestet. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDE DCE. Each stanza follows a rhyme scheme that can be divided into two parts, in which the last three lines are variable. The first seven verses follow the scheme of each stanza ABABCDE, which is fixed, while the second, CDE are placed in mixed order. In the first stanza, the last three verses follow the pattern DCE, in the second, CED, in the third and fourth, CDE, and in the fifth, as in the first DCE. The tone of the poem is very light and calm and emphasis only in certain points, for example in the question sentences of the first stanza. This calmness transpires the authors’ admiration for the beauty of the urn.
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In the first stanza, there are some apostrophes and at the end there are two question sentences. Moreover, Keats uses some metaphors referring to the urn: “unravish’d bride of quietness”, “foster-child of silence and slow time”, and “Sylvan historian”. The is an assonance “bride of quietness, / Thou foster-child of silence and slow time”, an alliteration “Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, / Sylvan historian, who canst thus express”, and two oxymoron “those unheard” and “peaceful citadel”. Rhetorical questions are used to tell what is represented on the urn and all question sentences begin with “What” which produce an anaphora. There is an apostrophe, which refers to the “Bold lover”.
In the second stanza “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter” is a paradox. Moreover, there is an apostrophe and a personification of the pipes: “ye soft pipes, play on”. On line 14 “ditties on no tone” is another paradox, and follows another apostrophe referred to the “youth”. On line 16 there is a parallelism “thou canst not leave they song, nor ever can those trees be bare.” In the remaining lines of the stanza the poet is addressing to the “Bold Lover”. His desire will be eternal as the urn, because he will never be able to kiss the girl. On line 29 there is a metonymy: “heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d”, and the poet uses two synecdoche: “burning forehead” and “parching tongue”.
Unlike the third stanza were the author reflects on the short-lived passions of human beings, the fourth stanza introduces a note of sadness and desolation. This can be understood by the words used by the poet in this stanza: “sacrifice” on line 31, “silent” on line 39 and “desolate” on line 40. In line 32-34 “green alter”, “heifer lowing at the skies”, and “silken flanks” are all part of the typical landscape of pastoral poetry. The last stanza instead is a sort of sum up of the poet’s “experience”. In the quatrain, the apostrophes used for the urn are: “Attic shape!” “Fair attitude!” on line 41, “thou, silent form” on line 44, “cold pastoral” on line 45 and “friend to man” on line 48. There are also personifications of the urn in almost all the stanzas of the poem.
In this ode, for Keats the most important type of beauty is the spiritual one, which refers to eternity, and not the physical one. Through art, man can become eternal and be remembered by future generation after death. The entire poem is a metaphor for poetry and its eternity over time and death. In fact, the scenes represented on the urn are frozen for ever, time has no power on it and the meaning of all the poem can be summarized in the last couplet of the poem: “«Beauty is truth, truth beauty,»- that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
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