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    Ode on a grecian urn by John Keats – review Essay

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    For the first time the speaker almost seems to relent on the perfection of never changing and, addressing the town directly, seems to hold real and generous feeling that it will always be ‘desolate’. ‘For ever more’ in line 38 now refers to emptiness. It is as if the vivid, fresh mood of stanza three has been reversed. The speaker’s interaction with the urn ends, however, as being ‘frozen’, it can offer no more answers and there is nothing more that it can reveal. In stanza five, the speaker ‘takes a step backwards’ and considers the urn in its entirety as an inanimate object and not in terms of the scenes on it.

    We are again reminded of the frailty of the human condition in line 46 with ‘When old age shall this generation waste’ and that the urn is safe from the ravages of time and human history. It will remain a ‘friend to man’ and finally comes the message that the urn has for us. The speaker has questioned the urn for four stanzas and the reply of ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ answers none of the questions which have been posed. It tells us nothing about the individual features on the urn and seems to come from what the urn actually is. It is an object of beauty that the speaker has experienced.

    If we take it that the final two lines are spoken solely by the urn (although this has long been a topic of debate) it is as if the urn is saying that the speaker has been asking all the wrong questions. The final paradox of the poem is that whilst maintaining its silence, the urn as still spoken and partially answered some questions although its response is not necessarily what was expected. Despite the ‘happy, happy’ tone of some parts of Ode On A Grecian urn, it is hard not to feel sadness for the joy that is only be anticipated and never actually felt.

    By being preserved from the passage of time, the characters on the urn are also trapped by it, never being able to reach for new joys in the future. Preservation from time forbids growth which is a key element to life itself. The themes of struggle between staying constant and changing, of joy leading to sadness, are echoed throughout Keats’ odes. In the final stanza of Ode On Melancholy, Keats views pleasure and pain as inextricably linked: She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die; And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh’.

    Turning to Poison while the bee-mouth sips: Beauty must die, joy is fleeting and the flower of pleasure will turn to poison. This seems to echo the sadness found in Grecian Urn. It is as if the joy of anticipation is overshadowed by the anticipation of the sadness which is sure to follow. In Grecian Urn, time always brings decay; here pleasure always leads to sorrow. These struggles however seem to become reconciled in Ode To Autumn. If the struggle with the urn’s preservation was symbolic of Keats’ own struggle to evade death, his overall feeling seems to have mellowed in his ode to autumn.

    The selection of this particular season implicitly takes up the themes of temporality, mortality and change but whereas the urn’s perfection lay in being immune to the passage of time, autumn’s seems to be that it embraces it. Despite the impending coldness and desolation of winter, autumn is a time of plenty and warmth in this ode. In the urn, the speaker found joy in it staying spring forever, but now autumn is told not to think of the songs of spring but to recognize the music it has of its own.

    Not only has time not damaged the beauty of nature, it has actually allowed more beauty to develop, beauty which could not be possible within the limitations of the urn. Even the understated sense of inevitable loss in the final line does no seem tragic as the birds will return as the seasonal cycle continues. Instead of joy always leading to sorrow, sorrow will now lead to joy. Hemant Sahi 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE John Keats section.

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