What theme do the poems, "The Solitary Reaper," "To an Athelete Dying Young," and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" share in common?
"The Solitary Reaper"; William Wordsworth
"To an Athelete Dying Young"; A. E. Housman
"Ode on a Grecian Urn"; John Keats
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These three poems by Wordsworth, Housman, and Keats share the thematic idea of life frozen in time. In Wordsworth's poem, he sees a solitary young woman reaping a field of grain and singing as she works. He admires her and her song as "Alone she cuts and binds the grain, ...." He listens, wondering what the meaning of the Scottish song might be (either he is too far away to catch the words distinctly or she sings in Gaelic). His reverie ends with the statement that he will carry her song in his heart and thus she will remain in that moment as long as he lives--and as long as his poem lives--frozen in time:
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;--
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
In Housman's poem to an young athlete who had the misfortune of dying young, Housman turns the misfortune around and claims that now the lad can live perpetually in his moment of glory, as glory otherwise passes all too quickly. The young athlete's glory, however, will remain frozen in time with him in his early death as a consolation:
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
In Keats' ode, he muses over how the scene painted there has frozen each participant in that moment eternally. He revels in the idea that all passions, all song, all leaves of "Spring" will remain forever as they are. He ends in the final apostrophe of the poem (apostrophe: writing addressed to some absent but supposed listener that is not a human listener: e.g., Thou, ye soft pipes, O Attic shape) by saying that when his generation is wasted away with age, the shapes upon the urn will remain frozen in time:
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.
Immortality of art.
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