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In Depth Analysis Of Keats' 'Ode On A Grecian Urn'

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Poetry & Poets

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John Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' depicts a timeless theme relevant in any society throughout the history of our civilization. Through his use of movement and of language, Keats has created a work of art in its own right whose overall idea and inspiration will remain unchanged generation after generation.
The necessity for infusion into all creatures and things in order to achieve some sense of the poetical and unchangeable permeates Keats'' Odes written in 1819, particularly 'Nightingale' and 'Grecian Urn.' While Keats was writing the Odes, he could not be unaware of his own troublesome health, and at the same time, was entirely too aware of the recent passing of his brother Tom. Despite such heartbreaking troubles, he composes 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' in an attempt to find poetical existence beyond his too-short human lifetime.
As Keats tries to find some sense of permanence in an ever more apparently impermanent and fleeting world, he turns to those objects which he regards to as outside of the temporality he, as a mortal man experiences: the perpetuating, generationless song of the nightingale and the 'cold Pastoral' ageless marble scenes on the Grecian Urn, considered by may to be among the 'best' of his poetry. Ex:
His best poetry is composed largely of representations of representations, meditations 'on' objects or texts that are themselves reflections of other artists' creative acts (Scott, xi).
The product of these artists are indeed timeless and eternal, something Keats was very aware, both in presence of other artists works and in the absence of his own. As Keats tries to create for himself a place among these eternal artists, he tries to perpetuate dialogue with both the past and the future by applying a style that allows him to create a "work of art" by describing 'works of art, to translate the arrested visual image into the fluid movement of words' (Scott 1). Scott, in his book The Sculpted Word, goes on to say that 'Keats must achieve what the heroes of antiquity were given-- namely their assured place in the cultural order' (Scot 1).
The ambiguities, uncertainties, and still remaining questions provoked by 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' have generated thousands of pages of criticism. From the beginning of the first stanza, the reader is probed with a series of questions issued by the poem's speaking subject. Keats then allows the urn to speak without speaking, to 'express/ A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme.' However, as Keats himself cannot get outside of the answers that he continually struggles with throughout his career, he issues a series of questions that he 'expects' the urn, or those represented on the urn to answer. Scott notes, ''the ode does not begin with speaker's attempt to compete with the urn, but with an homage to its strange genealogy and to its paradoxical powers of eloquence' (Scott 135). Scott also states that Keats immediately becomes impatient with the urn's silence and seeks to impose his own dialogue on the existing surface of the urn. Andrew Bennet also notices Keats's desire to enter into the dialogue, saying that Keats 'always seems about to burst into narrative' (Bennett 130). He seems right from the beginning to be questioning the urn, and then imposing his own answers. Then in urn fashion, Keats becomes as willfully ambiguous as the urn, ultimately haunting readers at the end of the poem by questioning the nature of Truth as represented by this urn and by his poem. As Stillinger accurately notes in The Hoodwinking of Madeline that the real question of the urn is 'Who says what to whom at the end of 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'?' (Stillinger 167-173).
The origin of truth must in some way relate to who we identify as the speaking subject in the poem. 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' was published three times ' with three different versions of the famous last lines, controversy surrounding the use of quotation marks and certain capitalizations (or their absence). Considering that something or someone is addressing the readers directly at the end of the poem, and that this someone is 'a friend to man,' it is important to investigate the nature of the speaking subject in 'Grecian Urn'. Keats, therefore, uses his relation to the urn to construct various narratives for the scenes. He sees the 'happy' lover and the object of his desire, the piper, the tree boughs, and the sacrificial procession. The urn's scenes, containing superficially wholesome and lovely scenes, are, nevertheless, ambiguous in their meanings, hence, Keats' insistent questioning throughout the first and fourth stanzas. He demands origins, names and specifics regarding certain represented events. These unanswerable questions are then left open to the viewer's own construction by the sculptor. Keats, knowing that he cannot know, poses his own interpretations for what stories the urn reveals.
According to Jason Mauro, author of 'The Shape of despair' Structure and Vision in Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn,' is that this particular ode inscribes a sine wave, with five distinctive points along its length. Example:

First: The poet is steeped in despair brought about by the world's unrelenting flux.
Second: Upon encountering the urn, he is filled with the hope that he has found an antidote to his despair.
Third: He finds that his hope is unfounded, -- that the antidote was no more than a placebo.
Fourth: As he more closely examines the urn, he finds that it embodies a terror far more intense than the despair from which he originally sought relief; that the placebo is in fact a poison.
Last: He embraces the transient condition of the world as an antidote to the terror inherent in the urn.

What was interesting about Mauro's sine-wave theory to the ode, is that the point of origin, --the poet's initial despair from which he wishes to ascend, -- becomes the point of salvation to which, by the end of the poem he wishes to climb.
Different scholars argue about the possible existence of an 'actual' tangible urn that may have inspired Keats to write his ode. There is a presumed sketch of a vase in the archives of the Keats-Shelley Memorial house in ...

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Keywords: ode on a grecian urn analysis beauty is truth, analysis of ode on grecian urn, analysis of ode on a grecian urn pdf, ode on a grecian urn is about

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