In Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Keats talks about is no particular vase. It is a symbol of enduring art as opposed to ephemeral art. The indefinite article “a” in the title of the poem substantiates this fact. It transforms into a ”thing of beauty that is a joy forever.” The urn in the poem is said to have been inspired by the Elgin marbles.
Keats had witnessed youth deteriorating and dying, by the side of his consumptive brother Tom. In his undying passion for Fanny Browne, he had envisaged a love that had no tomorrows. He had also experienced intellectual stagnation that mellowed him down in his youthful years, but did ripen his imagination in the process. And he comprehended that there was nothing permanent in the tangible world. Beauty had become synonymous with tangible objects. In the prescribed poem, Keats, through his imagination creates a thing of beauty that can be apprehended only through imaginative perception, and is therefore unique and pristine. It is far from the ravages of the Universal Enemy-Time. It is imaginative and intellectual at the same time because it is synonymous with Truth.
The urn is preserved in a secluded spot and fostered by Time,the other wise Destroyer. It is therefore wedded to quietness as it has been the urn’s sole and committed partner. It is a “sylvan historian” in that it recites histories to generations to come. The lovers love without tiring and they play melodies unheard that remain sweeter to comprehend. The beauty of maidens and the greenery of the trees shall never fade away as they are captured in the fixity of art, as opposed to the mortality of human life.
The word “haunts” implies his transport to the ideal world of Imagination. “Tempe” and “Arcadia” are words utilized for their poetic richness and classical significance. The interrogatives imply the suggestiveness of plastic art to “tease us out of thought”. Though art is ephemeral, it does possess the quality of arresting life forms in its relative fixity .The couples on the urn are evergreen as their love will never be satiated. The unheard melodies are indefatigable, and therefore sweeter. We may compare the central idea in this stanza to the celebrated aphorism of St.Paul : ”The things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
If the first scene denotes Dionysian revelry, the second signifies Apollonian order. And if the first emblematizes individual aspiration, the second reflects communal order. The images on the other side of the urn, recall the frieze of the Parthenon now in the British Museum .It depicts a sacrificial feast, that is singular for it simplicity and lack of embellishment, and is therefore typically Greek. Mathew Arnold has pointed out these lines as being a perfect instance of the Greek way of handling nature. The town had been emptied of its inhabitants, and no mortal could ever tell if these people returned after the sacrificial ritual.
Athens was the chief town of Attica, so the latter poses as an emblem for Greek culture. The term ’cold pastoral’ is an oxymoron in the juxtaposition of conflicting entities. The coldness may refer to the material of the urn: marble. The art frames kinetic life in its static canvass. The urn itself is a ‘silent form’ and it speaks not by means of statement but understatement; and makes a strong point through its subtlety. Critics have criticized the final verse of the poem. However, the final statement is neither a religious doctrine, moral precept nor a logical conclusion. It is rather a universal truth: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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© Rukhaya MK