Saturday, November 26, 2011

Essay on Keays "Ode on a Grecian urn"

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Ode on a Grecian Urn


An essay by Maynard Paul. 111 words.


In this essay I will start by offering some formal observations on Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn and then move on to discuss the central themes and how they are presented as opposites.


Metrics.


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The poem is comprised of five stanzas of ten lines of iambic pentameter. The meter is regular, but as is more the norm than the exception, there are deviations e.g. line three is hypercataletic containing an extra syllable at the end. The poem is pretty well end stopped with some instances of enjambment.


When writing out the rhyme scheme I made the following observations the first four lines are always abab then follows three lines of cde, but these are not repeated. In stanza one the final three lines are dce, in stanza two ced, in three and four cde, and in stanza five returning to dce.


It is also possible to say that very generally the four first lines of each stanza introduce a theme that is then elaborated on in the following six lines.


Themes.


In the first stanza the poet regards an ancient Grecian urn, is struck by its beauty and wonders what mysteries it might contain. It is compared to an unravishd bride of quietness and a foster child of silence and slow time


The urn itself is unchanged by the passage of time and represents art and a world suspended from ours. It is also a ,Sylvan historian capable of offering a glimpse into the lives of the people depicted on its exterior.


The stanza starts out in slowly and in the final two lines change gear from stillness to a kind of motion. The people on the urn are described vibrantly; the urn and its static nature is contrasted with the sensuous life portrayed on it, a theme carried in the poem as a whole.


In both line six and line eight, the people are described as gods or mortals or both, making it hard to understand if the people are timeless (immortal like gods) or subject to time as all mortals. Once again the poet offers a contrast, this one between the divine eternal and unchanging, and the human and changing, blurring the lines in the process.


The poet then considers a scene on the urn and through his empathic descriptions ; the pictures start to come to life. The urn tells a flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme. Here there is a sense of anticipation, the urn is a wondrous mystery, a better tale because it is not yet told. This is idea of arts ability to spark the imagination is also found in the beginning of the second stanza and in the beginning of the fourth.


The second stanza develops two opposites art versus reality and inaction versus action and plays on negative wording. The lovers are depicted in a perfect setting in a perfect moment and yet can never engage in the kiss that the picture implies is about to happen.


The poet is here emotionally immersed in the scene and tells the lovers not to fear but be glad that the moment will never wither and die, forever wilt thou love and she be fair. Although the poet seems to be singing the praise of the lovers in their timeless perfection, there seems to arise in the reader if not the poet the beginnings of some misgivings about the hopeless inaction of the scene. Perhaps this is what the many instances of negative wording is hinting at, after all what is the point of all this perfection if it can never be felt, if the kiss is postponed forever ?.


With the exclamation, play on the poet addresses the urn directly. When the speaker addresses a person or abstraction directly, it is known in literary terms as an apostrophe. In fact, the whole of the poem can loosely be seen as an apostrophe since the urn and the pictures on it are what is addressed.





The third stanza continues in much the same the same vein, the people on the urn whose qualities are so flatteringly and beautifully described ironically cannot act out all that they represent, they are unchanging forever painting and forever young.


In each of the consecutive stanzas the poet has expanded his imagination of the people on the urn gradually.


In the fourth stanza the poet imagines the life depicted on the urn in a larger context. Now we have a procession leading to a green altar and a sacrifice. The green altar is another contrast, the act of the sacrifice in opposition to the green of the altar, life in opposition to death. Throughout the poem there are references to green, the colour of spring and of renewal and change. Once again the static (the urn) is intertwined with the changing represented with the green. It is also a genre reference, romantic poetry is often characterized by the musing meditative reflection on nature.


The poet imagines the origins of the people on the urn a little town or a sea shore or possibly a citadel built on a mountain, and is forced to conclude that the city must be abandoned since the immobile villagers are frozen in time in the sacrifice scene. The opposition between the villagers coming to the sacrifice and the desolate cities is again the theme of immobility vs motion or participation vs observation. The difference is the strongest here and the negative connotation that began in stanza two more marked. In a sense the poet is forced to realize that the people are static, the word of the urn in turn can be seen as desolate and devoid of life and motion. Dwindling is also the poets emotional fusing with the scenes depicted on the urn.








In the final stanza the poet considers the urn and its world, but is no longer immersed in it. He seems to shake off the experience and the urn is again just an object, the men marble and the urn is now a cold pastoral.





The poet is waking from his romantic reverie and comments, Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought


and seems ambivalent about his previous emotional immersion into the world of the urn.


The urn will remain after the poet, and the present day reader for that matter, is dead and gone.


The final four lines are an object of great division as to who speaks the lines


beauty is truth, truth beauty. Is it the urn speaking to humanity - or the speaker to the urn. I will not presume to know the answer, but the option of the urn addressing mankind is probably the one with the most potential to make a poignant final statement.





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