Ode on a Grecian Urn

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Ode on a Grecian Urn Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, 
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearièd,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea-shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

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
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’


Written by John Keats in May 1819







              Poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn” (1819), which is considered a classic example of ecphrasis, by English romantic poet John Keats is a brilliant example of the double intermediality: pastoral, Bacchic scene, and sacrificial ritual depicted on the vase, represented in the poetic description. “Probably, the antique marble vase with bas-relief of an ancient religious procession inspired Keats to write his poem. The vase located in a park in London’s Holland House, belonging to the genus of barons Holland. Drawing of the vase “Sosibios” made from reproduced in the last lifetime Keats’s book keeps up to now. In the description of the vase, with all its poetic license and conventions, as though connected to two of the greatest signs of Hellenic schools – Pergamum and Alexandria. From the first taken “dramatic situation, the dynamics of action, pathos, the complication of compositional structure, strong plastic form, rich play of light and shadow”. From the second school was born genre of decorative garden sculptures, which include a vase. Curiously, the “Ode to …”, created in the spring of 1819, was then published in the «Annals of Fine Arts», committed to architecture, painting, sculpture, and only occasionally had published poems and essays on the subject of art. Rhyming system in the verse “Ode to a Grecian Urn” ABABCDEDCE, close to the iambic pentameter (decastich) of classical ode. Rhetorical questions and exclamations, repetitions, transfers (Enjambment), in fact, represent an attempt of the poet to reproduce the impression from seeing the vase ornaments, edging storyline scenes by the verbal means.

            Considering the rhythmic organization of the Ode, note that Keats used construction adopted by the poets of the XVIII century. But Keats produces new strophic form, in fact close to sonnet. Each of five verses of the Ode composed from ten lines written in iambic pentameter in which the rhyming system exactly repeats only in the first quatrains: abab. The final sextet has three different options: stanza 1 – cdedce, stanza 2 – cdeced, stanza 3 – cdecde, stanza 4 – cdecde, stanza 5 – cdecde.

           “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is formed up on a chain of paradoxes and contrasts. Keats decorated the poem by dissimilarity between the stationary figures on the urn and dynamic life, depicted on it; soul, variable and eternal, stable; life and art. And indeed, the author does not give answers, who these young men actually are – gods or mortals, and where this place is located – in the mountains or on the coast. Specific details are shown in the form of questions, from what their reality is combined with a certain mystery. A few poems can generate so many conflicting views as “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” 


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