“Ode On A Grecian Urn”: An Analysis Of Paradoxes And Controversy

1222 words - 5 pages

Renowned poet of the Romantic era, John Keats, is known for his thought provoking poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Within this poem, Keats analyzes an urn depicting various scenes from history. While Keats contemplation of the beauty of the urn is apparent throughout the work, there is a particular stanza that is particularly noteworthy. The fifth, and final, stanza of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” states,
“O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe ...view middle of the document...

However they are told not to grieve, for their love will never wither and they will never grow old.
Keats’ work culminates when he writes, “O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede/Of marble men and maidens overwrought/With forest branches and the trodden weed”(lines 41-43); he is both admiring and condemning the appearance of the urn, claiming the branches and weeds within the scenes take away from the beauty illustrated on the urn. Here, Keats illustrates his conflicted opinion of the lives illustrated upon the urn. In the next two lines we see Keats go through a revelation when he states, “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought/As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!”(lines 44-45). With this exclamation, Keats comes to the conclusion that because the lovers will always be in love and the instruments will always be playing, the world the urn portrays is stagnant and will therefore never be living. The revelation continues in the following lines when Keats writes, “When old age shall this generation waste,/Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/Than ours, a true friend to man, to whom thou say’st,” (lines 46-47). Keats must live in a world of mortality, where love eventually dies and music ultimately stops, but this urn has provided Keats with a sense of eternity. This is significant, due to the fact that Keats was often ill and constantly aware of his own mortality. However, through his contemplation of the grecian urn, Keats sees the individual eternity reflected in the scenes upon the urn. It is noted in the aforementioned lines; while the current generation will expire due to old age, the urn will continue to provide the sense of eternity and reverence afforded to Keats for generations to come. With this final revelation, Keats confronts the mortality of his generation through the use of multiple paradoxes. Through the use of this final stanza, Keats is able to bring his contemplations on the urn’s own form of eternity to a resolution.
The last two lines within the fifth stanza, “”Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (lines 49-50), have caused much controversy over what these lines truly mean. While there have been a few individuals, such as T.S. Eliot, who have claimed this line is simply unnecessary and “a serious blemish on a beautiful poem” (Stewart, 1), the aforementioned couplet is the most cryptic element in all of Keats’ poem. The controversy surrounding the infamous line stems begins with the questioning of who is speaking...

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