"Beauty is truth, truth is beauty." Do you agree with the idea that this is surely the most famous quotation in English literature?

8 Answers

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is intriguing about this quote of Keats is the fact of its ambiguity as for so long it has been interpreted in two different ways  That is, does Keats mean this as an asphorism, or is this statement the credo only for the urn?  The question of who is the "Ye" of the final lines has long been debated.  That is, is the statement of beauty being truth, truth only for art or is it truth for mortals, as well.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Absolutely not! Only English majors and people who are well read even know this line from Keats's poem. Many, many more are better known:

To thine own self be true.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Time will tell (from the KJV Bible)

Seize the day

These are just a few.

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Think about it from an average person's point of view...someone who hasn't recently taken a literature class, and someone who doesn't pick up the classics just for the fun of it.  If you were to present them with each of the following quotes, which do you think they would choose as having heard before, or consider to be the most famous:

1.  "To be or not to be, that is the question"
2.  "Beauty is truth, truth is beauty"
3.  "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want"

I threw in that last one because the King James Bible is definitely an important work in English Literature has some pretty famous lines in it that a great many people will have heard at church, at funerals, etc.  My guess would be that the majority of people would choose either 1 or 3 as the most famous.

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suman1983 | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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It would be controversial if this quote of Keats is considered as the most famous quotation in the whole English literature. However, it can definitely be said that it is the most famous quote among all of Keats’s writings. No other quote of John Keats has gained such popularity or has been quoted such extensively in literary criticism. The way Keats has tried to ascertain the permanence of art through this line is quite unique and it is for that reason this quote has gained such enormous popularity.

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

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There are many famous quotations in English literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"; "Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread"; "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate"...

It is difficult to say which are more famous than the others, and while Keats' quote is very famous, I have to agree that Shakespeare has many more such famous quotes.

kwoo1213's profile pic

kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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I think Shakespeare's many famous quotations far surpass the Keat's quotation.  It would be hard to argue that anyone has more famous quotations than Shakespeare in literature.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Well, it's up there but I doubt it is the most famous.  Shakespeare has Keats beat on any number of quotations:  "To be or not to be," for instance, or "To thine ownself be true."  I'm sure lots of others will chime in on this one. 

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philosophius | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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i have to agree with you.

i have friends majoring in metaphysics know this line for debates.  but yeah, most people wouldn't know keat's odes. most people wouldn't know how to enjoy it.

In reply to #7: