In the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn"  - closing lines?In the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" - the closing lines, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' That is all / ye know on earth and all ye need to...

In the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn"  - closing lines?

In the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" - the closing lines, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' That is all / ye know on earth and all ye need to know" - I am curious as to what they actually mean. For instance, who is speaking and to whom? If the lines are spoken by the urn, then who is it speaking too? What would be its point? But, could these lines be spoken to the actual urn, how does that in turn change the effect of the lines?



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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I wonder if there are any other two lines that are debated so much.  The closing couplet to the poem is really profound.  There will be no easy answers here and I strongly advise you to take what you find here, what you find in your class discussions/ notes, your instructor's analysis, and, most importantly, your own perceptions and merge them together in understanding the last two lines.  I think that the context of the poem of Keats staring at this urn and the beauty within it is important.  The urn is the launching pad for the philosophical ideas and the inquiry that Keats explores in the poem.  The challenge here though is that Keats struggles to make the leap between what is happening in the urn and the world outside of it.  Art has the advantage of being cloistered in one moment in frozen time.  The beauty of the urn is suspended because it is within art.  As an artist, Keats was driven with the idea of how can art's perfection be something within the grasp of the real world.  Probably more than any other Romantic thinker, Keats was animated with a sense of this notion of artistic and aesthetic perfection in his work.  How does he, as an artist, create a realm that transcends frozen conditions and brings out the essence of truth and beauty?  How does one move from mere abstraction to actual replication of such elements?  His closing lines might be a way for him to attempt to make peace with the fact that elements of truth and beauty might lie beyond his grasp, beyond anyone's, and simply exist as a realm for us to wish to enter, where "angels dare to tread."  It is almost as if the last lines create a sweet pain of consciousness where we know that we will never be able to create such elements in our art, but rather to simply behold them and bask in their presence is enough.  When Keats sees the beauty and truth of the urn, it fills him with enough satisfaction to be able to appreciate and express that he can feel such an experience.  This subjective conception of supposedly objective ideals is consistent with Romantic tendencies.  At the same time, the closing lines help to bring out the "negative capability" that is such a part of Keats' work and Romanticism in its response to the Enlightenment period's affirmation of scientific inquiry.  The idea that there are realms where we, as human beings, must be content with the unknown is something that Romantics, and especially Keats, advocated, and the closing couplet to the poem might be a statement in this light, as well.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

With the ode as a meditation upon the images of the Grecian urn, the final lines present a paradox. For the urn - the "ye" of Keats's apostrophe--beauty is truth as the "Fair youth," for instance, will always remain so; he does not exist beyond the unthinking state of nature.  "Truth is beauty" is so since there is no existence for art beyond the beauty.

However,--and here lies the contradiction-- for humans, beauty cannot be preserved and, therefore, be truth.  There is, instead, some existential despair here as beauty can only exist in an artificial state. Yet, if the reader goes beyond this remonstrance of Keats, he/she will that the final lines of Keats liberates man to be imperfect.  And, imperfection causes all human beings to make and remake art, one form dies and one lives with each rebirth of art, which is a common theme in Romantic poetry.


amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Interesting questions.  I have always assumed that the speaker looking at the urn was addressing the urn...that the truth is in the stories depicted on the side of the urn and that the beauty of these scenes has been captured there forever.  As long as the urn survives and is able to share its stories with the onlooker, the truth and beauty is there to be taken in and enjoyed.  If the urn is the speaker, then again, it is addressing humanity in that there is truth and beauty in life and some glimpses of it have been captured on the sides of the urn itself. This would translate to happiness and satisfaction in the joy--truth and beauty--that we experience daily.  It is all we need to know, if we can indeed slow down enough to recognize it when we see it.

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