Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250â€“1900.
John Keats. 1795â€“1821
625. Ode on a Grecian Urn
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-fringed legend haunts about thy shape 5
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? 10
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 15
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goalâ€”yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! 20
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unweariÃ¨d,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love! 25
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. 30
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, 35
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its 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. 40
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! 45
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,â€”that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ 50
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a poem by John Keats, written in 1819 and first published in January 1820. Its inspiration is considered to be a visit by Keats to the exhibition of Greek artifacts accompanying the display of the “Elgin Marbles” at the British Museum. The poem captures aspects of Keats’s idea of “Negative Capability”, as the reader does not know who the figures are on the urn, what they are doing, or where they are going. Instead, the speaker revels in this mystery, as he does in the final couplet (mentioned below), which does not make immediate, ascertainable sense but continues to have poetic significance nonetheless. The ode ultimately deals with the complexity of art’s relationship with real life.
The poem begins:
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
and ends with the famous lines:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
Due to uncertainty over where the punctuation is placed, it is impossible to know whether the last lines are spoken by the urn, or representative of the poet’s view. Also, it may be that only “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” is spoken, and the rest is the poet’s comment. This has led to significant critical division over the meaning of the famous Ode.
Because this ending couplet is in direct contrast to many of Keats’ poems, for example “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” or “Lamia”, in which a man is deceived by a woman’s beauty, literary critics have begun interpreting it in a new way. It is now believed that the narrator, representative of Keats, was criticizing the Urn, saying that all it will ever need to know is that beauty is truth and truth beauty. This is also a sign of jealousy as the narrator admires this simplicity just as he criticizes yet admires the characters on the urn, who will never achieve climax yet are forever passionate.
I remember this poem from when I was in secondary school and I also remember thinking on the argument about the lusty lad with the maiden just out reach being frozen at the peak of supposed passion and ergo being prefect as a heap of rubbish, that there has to be more then that as it is to puritanical and pure idea and really passion to was to my mind messy and would peak and fall and peak again rather then be all down hill but I was unsure as to why exactly and being precocious figured it was cos I did not know enough about life and passion.
Which I then pursued as often as possible and in many different ways discovering many differnt passions, types of passion
And the different way people expression their passion in different ways and for different reasons.
Desire is the start of passion and sometimes it blooms and sometimes it does not. For to be passionate about something or someone you have to know and accept them in all weathers, at least to my mind and that means knowing that while passion can ebb and flow that it does ebb and flow. Passion is what drives people, be it to love, to war, to stand up for others, to do things they dream of and that they are scared of.
Living a passionate life can be as full of sorrow as it can be of joy but doing it while be brutally honest with oneself
makes for a hell of a time. Passion can be quiet as well it is not all huge rows and shouting and loudly laughing, it can be the brisk turn of a page, a held breath, a stitch quietly placed, a floor neatly swept.
Some people are very expressive about their passions they tell people all about them and their intensity pours out of them while they remember and relive, others kept their passions quietly to themselves, hording them rarely sharing keeping them safe and select shared only with a small select few but that does not mean one is more passionate then the other about the things that lights that fire with in them and fuels it.
With desire can come the disappointments and disillusionment but how much of that do we do to ourselves ?
How honest with ourselves are we being if we let desire build to a point where it discolours that which sparked it and the fires of passion never ignites ? That for me is the tragedy of the boy and girl for ever frozen on the urn and for me one the truths I went seeking and in doing so learned more about myself then I ever expected.