Wednesday, April 10, 2013

grecian urn

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Analytical Essay

In the poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats, the speaker struggles with the trials and tribulations of life compared to immortality. He then speaks to the Grecian Urn in attempt to engage with the static immobility of the sculpture. He questions the urn, but gets no response from it. The speaker ultimately has to decide the answers to his own questions, leaving the poem with a higher level of understanding about life.

This was a poem from the Romantic Period and that made it easier to take a more “imaginative” standpoint, because during this period the authors focused on feelings, the imagination, and the value of what is supposed to be done to what can be done. It is important to look at the feelings of this particular poem, and it deals with the mysterious works of life in general, and reality versus a so-called “dream world.” The author creates this dream world through the speaker’s own imagination. The theme of this poem portrays Keats’s attempt to connect with the stand still time of sculpture, the Grecian urn. It has been passed down through countless centuries to the time of the speaker’s viewing, and this urn exists outside of time in the human sense�it does not age, or die, and it can grasp no such concepts. During the speaker’s meditation, this creates an

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intriguing paradox for the human figures carved into the side of the urn. They are free from time, but are simultaneously frozen in time. This is illustrated by the lines “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can the trees be bare” (v. 15 &16). The people on the urn do not have to confront aging and death, but they cannot experience anything because they are frozen. Even though they will always have their youth, the lover’s will never know a different song, or know what winter feels like, or even how it would feel to grow old.

In the poem, the speaker tries to engage with the scenes on the urn at three different occasions. Each time he asks different questions to the urn, hoping that different approaches will somehow better answer his questions. In the first stanza, he examines the picture of the “mad pursuit” (Keats v. ) and wonders what story there is behind it, asking the questions “What men or gods are these? What maidens loath? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?” (v. 8 & 10). Of course, the urn cannot tell him the who’s, what’s, where’s, and when’s of the stories it depicts, so after an endless number of unanswered questions, the speaker decides to analyze the pictures himself and abandon this kind of questioning. He uses his imagination to illuminate his mind of what the scenes actually depict. Through the speaker’s imagination and description of the scenes, the reader is also involved, making a triangle of imagination between the speaker, the urn, and the reader.

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In the first stanza, he sees the two lovers trying to catch each other, but cannot because they are frozen. He realizes that even though they will never actually touch, they will also never grow old. He explains this by saying, “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss…She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (v. 17, 1-0). The passion and love they have for one another will always remain, but the two young lovers will never know what it is like to touch each other’s lips or give into their passion. They will forever “want” and be “forever panting” (v. 7). The speaker sees both sides of the coin, he becomes aware of the negative side of their immortality, but he also realizes the soft pipes will play on, never to be forgotten. This makes the speaker question his own achievements and success in life. He does not want to leave the world a failure, having never felt like he lived, loved, or did something to be remembered by. In other words, he wants the soft pipes of “his” song to play on even after he is gone.

In another scene, the speaker sees how lonely and deserted the town will always be because everyone is frozen outside. This is significant because those people will never be able to experience anything else in life, they are permanently “frozen” at the “green altar” (v. ). The poem says,

And, little town, thy streets forevermore

Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

why thou art so desolate, can e’er return (v. 8-40).

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The townspeople will not be able to ever return to their homes, never knowing what it is like to understand the meaning of “home sweet home.”

The speaker leaves the poem questioning the pros and cons of his own mortality. He sees the good side of being frozen in time, but he does not envy those people. He says,

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 (v. 44-47)

He feels that living life to the fullest is more attractive than immortality. Even though the urn teases the speaker with his immortality, the speaker knows the urn never experience anything, it will remain in the midst of the other woe time presents. The speaker knows he will never escape all of the negative aspects of life, but he is willing to take that chance. To experience life overall might be the best gift, which makes being mortal worth it.

To conclude, each of the two parties has a different outlook on the other. The speaker sees the urn as ignorant to the way of the world, while the urn sees the speaker not understanding the secrets that life holds. That is what the poem tries to illustrate when it says, “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’�that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (v. 4-50). In other words let there be art for art’s sake, the Grecian Urn paints a picture, but it does not necessarily need to have a purpose. The underlying fact the urn presents is that life does hold many

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secrets. This quote may be a reminder of “negative capability,” being able to look at the mysteries of life and to be content having them unanswered. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker is almost interrogating the urn, asking question after question, but by the end of the poem the speaker is ok with not having all of the answers to his questions, or to life. He realizes that by not having the questions answered he has actually answered them himself. The speaker concludes that the beauty of life is everywhere, and people should make an effort to understand this; maybe that is where the truth will be found.



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