This poem is one of the finest poems of John Keats. It is one among the six great tragedies written by Keats. He is considered as the most sensual poet of the Romantic Movement. The current poem was written in May 1819. Keats was born on 31 October 1795 and his life span was very short. He died in 1821 and left the whole world in a great sorrow as this loss was a very big blow for Literature Lovers. His poems are important to understand the modern lyrical poetry because keats has written a new kind of poem. We can find ten lines in every stanza of his poems and these lines are neatly arranged. The first four lines match with the Shakespearean sonnet whereas the last six lines parallel the Petrarchan Sonnet. Thus we can find a glimpse of both the kind of sonnets in his ode. This poem Ode on a Grecian Urn was first published in 1820 in a magazine Annals of the fine Arts. Let us analyze this poem line by line. In the first stanza the poet says that-
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?
The poet is watching an urn or an earthen pot carefully and says that the Urn represents quietness.It seems that the Urn is the foster child of silence portrayed by some Sylvan Historians. There are some beautiful pictures portrayed on that Urn and these pictures are lifeless but appealing. The Poet has so many questions in his mind. He is trying to enquiry about the people, deities or instruments portrayed on that earthen pot. He has not received any answer and this is one of the reasons that the poet is anxious or worried about the existence of the painting or the picture inscribed upon the earthen pot. In the next stanza the Poet says that-
“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!
In the second stanza the poet watches the pot or Urn where there are some pictures engraved. In that picture there is a fair youth sitting beneath the tree. This young man is singing a song which is never heard and that is why the poet says that unheard melodies are sweeter then the heard melodies. In the picture there is a lover who is trying to kiss his beloved but he is unable to kiss her. The poet says that the lover must wait to kiss her because her beauty is not going to fade away with time as the picture is immortal and the lover will never be satisfied. In the next stanza the poet says that-
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.
In the above mentioned lines the Poet says that the picture inscribed on that Urn is speechless or action less. The bough is happy as it cannot shed the leaves. It can never say Good Bye to Spring because the picture is ageless so immortal. The piping songs are also everlasting so it will always be new and fresh like the lover who is trying to kiss his beloved but he is unable to kiss her because he is chasing her and she is also playing with him. The love can still be enjoyed because both of them will always chase each other and the process will never end. There can be some autobiographical references of these lines because Keats himself admired Fanny Brown but this admiration never got happiness because Keats lived a short life. In this poem the love is forever because like the earthen pot this poem in itself is immortal. Generation after generation will come and witness this love composed by John Keats. The passion of love is far above all the human sentiments. The word sorrow here reflects that a lover is always worried about his love. This is one of the reasons that a lover is sorrowful but passionate. Burning forehead and parching tongue can be the symptoms of love. In the next stanza the poet says that-
“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.
The poet rotates the Urn and finds a new picture where a group of people are going somewhere for sacrifice. The poet is curious to know about this ceremony of sacrifice. The Poet is anxious to know about the mysterious priest who is leading these men to the sacrifice .Altar is a place for this kind of ceremony where some deities can also be found. This place is decorated by garlands. The streets are silent because almost all the people have gone to witness the sacrifice. The little town and streets are waiting for these men to come back but they will never return. The poet is asking innocently that will these men ever return to these streets? The word “her silken” can be a reference to the female animal who is about to be sacrificed. In the last stanza the poet says that-
“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.”
All these references are Grecian because Keats was influence by the Grecian culture and tradition. The above mentioned lines reflect the urn acts like a sculpture where so many pictures are there. Trodden weed can also be noticed in the picture engraved on the urn. Weeds are trodden because so many people have gone through them at the place of the sacrifice. The Poet says that the Urn is chiding the present generation because the Urn is lifeless yet it speaks a lot about the present generation. It is silent but it consoles us because it acts like a friend to us. Envy is the innate trait of all living men but this Urn is silent and it has nothing to do with the seven deadly sins. The last two lines are the most famous lines of this poem because these lines present us a beautiful philosophy that “ Beauty is truth, truth beauty-that is all”. Everything which is beautiful is truth and everything which represents truth is beautiful. We keep on searching truth and beauty at different places but both of them are interwoven in each other. This is the message hidden in this poem. The lover or the beloved is not beautiful but their love is beautiful because their love represent truth.