John Keats

Romantic Poet

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  • October 31, 1795 in Moorfields, London
  • Lost his parents at a young age
  • Richard Abbey, Keats guardian, did not agree with his pursuit of writing
  • Studied to become an apothecary, then a surgeon
  • At 21, he was free from Abbey and with a small inheritance, began devoting himself to writing
  • Fell in love in love with Fanny Brawne, but never married
  • Moved to Italy after contracting tuberculosis for the warmer climate, which ultimately ended his relationship with Fanny
  • Suffered greatly at the end of his life from TB
  • February 23, 1821
John Keats -- Poem: 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', read by Tony Britton

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-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?

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!

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.

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.

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."


The speaker of the poem is observing an urn, a relic of the Greeks, that depicts two different scenes. The speaker tries to identify to the characters depicted in the scenes, and understand the feeling each one felt. To him, the scenes represent timelessness. The characters are frozen in time of the urn, and will never lose the feeling that was felt in that exact image. The lovers are eternally in love and the musicians will always play happily under the undying tree. The In the end however, the speaker realizes that that kind of timeless may not be as luxurious as it seems. The characters will never be able to fulfill the feelings in that moment. The small village, though seemingly happy, will forever be in desolate and silence. This brings feelings of sorrow to the speaker because he realizes that that kind of beauty only exists in art.

The ode has five stanzas, each with ten lines, having a constant rhyme in each stanza. Literary devices, such as metaphors, double entendre, and paradox, are employed to give the poem the feeling of tension and ambiguity. These feelings are used to make the readers question how the speaker truly feels about the urn


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John Keats, English poet - Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819

Works Cited

"John Keats Biography." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Mazzeno, Lawrence W. "Ode on a Grecian Urn." EBSCO. Salem Press, Jan. 2002. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn." Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski and Mary Ruby. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 178-198. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.