Ode on a Grecian Urn  

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"Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a poem written by the English Romantic poet John Keats in May 1819 and published in January 1820 (see 1820 in poetry). It is one of his "Great Odes of 1819". Keats found earlier forms of poetry unsatisfactory for his purpose, and the collection represented a new development of the ode form. He was inspired to write the poem after reading two articles by English artist and writer Benjamin Haydon. Keats was aware of other works on classical Greek art, and had first-hand exposure to the Elgin Marbles, all of which reinforced his belief that classical Greek art was idealistic and captured Greek virtues, which forms the basis of the poem.

Divided into five stanzas of ten lines each, the ode contains a narrator's discourse on a series of designs on a Grecian urn. The poem focuses on two scenes: one in which a lover eternally pursues a beloved without fulfilment, and another of villagers about to perform a sacrifice. The final lines of the poem declare that

Beauty is truth, truth is beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

and literary critics have debated whether they increase or diminish the overall beauty of the poem. Critics have focused on other aspects of the poem, including the role of the narrator, the inspirational qualities of real-world objects, and the paradoxical relationship between the poem's world and reality.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" was not well received by contemporary critics. It was only by the mid-19th century that it began to be praised, although it is now considered to be one of the greatest odes in the English language. A long debate over the poem's final statement divided 20th-century critics, but most agreed on the beauty of the work, despite various perceived inadequacies.

Full text

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-fring'd 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, unwearied,

        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 this 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."




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ode on a Grecian Urn" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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