Analisi "Ode on a Grecian urn" by John Keats

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“Ode on a Grecian urn” is an ode by John Keats.
“Ode on a Grecian urn” is a reflection on the contrast between the perfection of the world of art and the short comings and sufferings of real life. Moreover, the beauty of works of art is eternal, while the beauty of human beings decays.
In the first stanza, the poet addresses the urn as if it was alive and he calls it “Sylvan historian” on line 3.
In this stanza, what is represented on the surface of the urn, is a “flowery tale” on line 4, and an arcadian landscape. It tells or scenes of love which will remain forever frozen in the urn. In fact, while human beings and their PHYSICAL BEAUTY decay, these images and their beauty will remain eternal.
As regards natural elements, we can find: “Sylvan” on line 3, “flowery” on line 4, “leaf” on line 5 and “dales of Arcady” on line 7. There is also an expression referring to PASSION: “wild ecstasy” on line 10. Also SOME PEOPLE are mentioned: “bride” on line 1, “foster-child” on line 2, “deities or mortals” on line 6 and “men or gods” on line 8. In this stanza, the most privileged sense is HEARING. The expressions related to it are: “silence” on line 2, “pipes and timbrels” on line 10. There are also some words related to QUIETNESS: “quietness” on line 1 and “slow time” on line 2.
Line 5 “what leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape” appeals to the sense of SIGHT. Instead, “pursuit” and “escape” on line 9, convey an idea of MOVEMENT. The questions on lines 5-10 suggest that the poet is in a particular state of mind: they are addressed to himself, so he is in the world of IMMAGINATION. Moreover, they introduce a sylvan and mythological world, since the key-word of the sestet is “legend” on line 5.
This stanza opens with a reference to the sense of HEARING and to IMMAGINATION: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter” on lines 11 and 12. The other expressions referring to hearing, which is the dominant sense, are: “soft pipes, play on” on line 12, “pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone” on line 14, “thy song” on line 16 and “ear” on lines 13. The phrase “never canst thou kiss” on line 17 refers to the sense of TOUCH, while “she cannot fade” on line 19, “she be fair” on line 20 and “fair” on line 15 refer to SIGHT. All these actions, however, are related to ETERNITY, since they will never be completed.
In this stanza, on the surface of the urn, there is a musician, the story of a “Bold lover” (on line 17): the poet evokes some unheard melodies that are a creation of mind; this coy 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.
The natural elements mentioned are the “trees” on lines 15 and 16. There is also a reference to PASSION: “sensual” on line 13. The other actions related to ETERNITY are: “thou canst not leave/ thy song” on lines 15-16; “nor ever can those trees be bare” on line 16; “for ever wilt thou love” on line 20.

In this stanza the dominant sense is HEARING: “piping songs” on line 24 and “melodist” on line 23.
From this stanza a great JOY spreads: “Ah, happy, happy boughs!” on line 21, “more happy love! More happy, happy love!” on line 25, “happy melodist” on line 23. These repetitions describe the poet’s happiness, the joy he feels when he looks at the urn. But in contrast with this joy, there is the PASSION that affects human beings: ”All breathing human passion for above, / that leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d” on lines 28-29. This happens because love on deep, ardent. The other references to PASSION are: “for ever warm and still to be enjoy’d” on line 26, “for ever panting” on line 27, “a burning forehead, and a parching tongue” on line 30. The repetition of the expression “for ever” (on lines 24, 26, 27) is related to ETERNITY, together with “for ever young” on line 27.
In this stanza there also some natural elements: “leaves” and “spring” on line 22.
On the surface of the urn there is an eternal spring: “nor ever bid the Spring adieu” on line 22.
In stanza 4 the scene changes completely, as if the poet were observing another side of the urn: it no longer deals with love scenes described before, but with the religious solemnity of a “sacrifice”, on line 31. Also in this stanza, like in the second one, the contrast between imagination and real life is carried out through the description of what the poet really seems to see (lines 31-34) and what he imagines is happening in the “little town” on line 35 created in his mind (lines 35-40). This “little town” is “desolate” (on line 40, because all its inhabitants are following the “mysterious priest” on line 32 to the sacrifice).
Despite the brutality of the scene described, the 4th stanza convey a certain idea of QUIETNESS: “peaceful” on line 36, “pious morn” on line 37 and “will silent be” on line 39.
Also a colour is mentioned: “green” on line 32 and there is a reference to the sense of HEARING: “lowing” on line 33. “Skies” on line 33 is an element of AIR. Instead, the elements of LAND are: “sea shore” on line 35 and “mountain” on line 36. At the end, there is only a WATER’S element: “river” on line 35. As regards people mentioned, there is only the presence of the “mysterious priest”, the protagonist, together with the “heifer” he is leading, of the sacrifice.
In the 5th stanza what is described on the surface of the urn is the “attic shape” on line 41. Keats addresses the urn as a “cold pastoral” on line 45 because it is only an inanimate things, marble made. But, at the same time, it is also defined as “a friend to man” on line 48 because it is like a tomb, so it preserves the memory of the dead and gives men the possibility to became eternal through art. “Fair attitude” on line 41 appeals to SIGHT. The people mentioned are “men and maidens” on line 42. Instead, the natural elements are “forest branches” and “the trodden weed” on line 43. Moreover, the phrase “thou shalt remain” on line 47 and “eternity” on line 45 are related to ETERNITY. Finally, the expression “silent form” on line 44 underlines the inanimate nature of the urn.
The last two lines of this ode, are quite famous:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”
They express a particular Keats’ concept, since he identifies beauty and truth as the only type of knowledge on Earth. This concept paves the way to Aestheticism.

This poem is an irregular Pindaric ode. It consists of 5 stanzas made up of 10 lines.
The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDE DCE. So, each stanza, is made up of two parts: a quatrain and a sestet.
The most significant examples of alliterations are: “t” on lines 7, 15, 16, 31, 33; “m” on line 42; “s” on line 35.
ASSONANCE: “o” on lines 6, 44; “a” on lines 39, 50.
1st stanza: Quatrain: some apostrophes.
Sestet: questions sentences.
2nd stanza: Quatrain: progression from affirmative to negative sentences.
Sestet: exortation to the “Bold Lover” to not to worry.
3rd stanza: Quatrain: exclamation sentences which complete the identification of the poet with the
Sestet: exclamation sentences.
4th stanza: Quatrain: rhetorical question sentences which indicate a renewed distance between the
poet and the urn.
Sestet: questions.
5th stanza: Quatrain: exclamation sentences.
Sestet: positive sentences.
In the FIRST STANZA, Keats uses some metaphors to address the urn: “unravish’d bride of quietness” on line 1. Their common ground is purity, peace. “foster-child of silence and slow time” on line 2. Their common ground is quietness. “Sylvan historian” on line 3. The common ground are nature and eternity.
The SECOND STANZA opens with a PARADOX: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter” on lines 11-12.
In the remaining lines of the stanza the poet is addressing to the “Bold Lover” on line 17. He symbolises eternal desire, since he will never able to kiss the girl, because the image is frozen in the marble of the urn.
While STANZA 3 ends with a bitter reflection on the short-lived passions of human beings, STANZA 4 introduces a note of SADNESS and DESOLATION.
The words belonging to this semantic area are: “sacrifice” on line 31, (“garlands” on line 34), “silent” on line 39 and “desolate” on line 40.
The LAST STANZA can be divided into two parts as well: the quatrain, which contains the poet’s return from his journey of imagination to real life, and the sestet, which sums up the result of the poet’s experience with an aesthetic consideration.
On the quatrain, the APOSTROPHES the poet uses 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.

In this ode the author wants to exalt the beauty of works of art. In fact, the beauty of the urn will remain eternal, while the beauty of human beings certainly will decay. So, the very important kind of beauty isn’t physical one, but it is spiritual one, which is related to eternal. Moreover, Keats underlines the importance of art, as a means for man to become eternal and to be remembered by mankind after his death.
In this ode Keats reveals his passionate devotion to beauty. Above all, he exalts the beauty of Greece and of works of art. I join Keats in his distinction between PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL BEAUTY and I also think that SPIRITUAL BEAUTY is the real kind to be important.
Nowadays, instead, people give too much importance to PHYSICAL BEAUTY, which led them to plastic surgery, rigid diets, hurried and superficial judgements.