Expert Answers
sjp eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It would certainly be unfair to label Keats an escapist based solely on a single poem.  Looking at Ode on a Grecian Urn, however, we can see that he certainly plays with some escapist ideals.  As he expounds in his own mind upon the love affair depicted upon the Grecian urn, the laments.

 "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
     Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on"

In other words, the world that he imagines will always be better then the one he is actually living in.  Nothing in real life can live up to own dreams and imagination. 

As the poem continues however, he admits there are some drawbacks to an imagined life depicted upon on urn. Namely, the fact that it is imagined and will never come to anything.  In this way, he shows a desire to stay grounded in reality.

I think that all writers have an escapist side to them, and it is that side that motivates them to createnew worlds or ideas in their writing.  Keats is no more an escapist than most others you will find in the literary canon.

For more insights into this poem, Enotes has some excellent resources.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No, I do not think Keats is an escapist.  Many writers used their craft to delve into worlds they only dreamed of or wished they could be living in, for example.  Also, many wrote of fantasy worlds and places that did not exist, except in their own minds.  Because they had great dreams or aspirations or because they wrote of these subjects does not mean these authors were escapists.

kc4u | Student

There is nothing wrong if you want to escape from a degenerate & suffocating condition into a world of imagination & beauty. In so far as 'escapism'/'escapist' is a pejorative term, Keats's poetry is no poetry of 'escapism', and Keats is not an 'escapist'. When we talk about an escape, it is not enough to talk about what/where we escape from; it is important to consider what/where we escape to/into. The ancient Greek urn in Keats's ode is a work of art, and so symbolic of beauty & eternity; all the engravings on its marble surface depict life as transfixed in the domain of art. The limitations of actual life are thus transcended in the symbolic/imaginative permanence of the hellenic plastic art. The antinomy between art & life, beauty & mutability, the ideal & the real is no simple escapism in Keats's poetry. Even if we look at the urn's supposed message to mankind, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty', the chiasmus should make us aware of the inversion & the complexity of the discourse. Keats doesn't assign any one-dimensional message to the work of art and, what is more, the message is modified by the mortal voice of the poet--' That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know'.

skampani | Student
I believe that Keats certainly plays with some escapist ideals. for instance in 'Ode to a Nightingale' which is one of Keats' six great odes is a lyric meditation narrated by a poet who is tempted to forsake the real world of human suffering for the ideal world of art. as he listens to the Nightingale's song, the speaker becomes more and more epraputured by it and increasingly disgruntled with the mortl world of pain and death. Keats begins by describing his current listless mental state contrasting it with the beautiful and carefree song of the nightingale. He wishes for freedom from earthly care and longs for the 'faerie' land of art(which is represented in the poem by the nightingale.) Life on earth is too disappointing and the only escape from it is through poetry. Keats wants to escape from a degenerate & suffocating condition into a world of imagination & beauty. This is also depicted in the poem 'On The Sea' in which Keats is adressing every human being who has become exhausted with life and telling them to look to the sea, or to the contrasting nature of human life for inspiration and rejuvenation. He is suggesting that the volatile nature of our own lives is a source of individual inspiration that is as immense and eternal as the sea.Keats' poetry represents the mental travel that one undergoes when they escape into the imaginative world of literature.
ali578 | Student
Do you think Keats is an escapist?


he wa not an escapist, every poet has his own tendecies. though we do not see any revolutionary thought in his poetry but we can not call him escapist on the basis of this because he was a pure poet and his subject matter was beauty.

ramchirakkal | Student

I would like to have detailed notes on Keats as an escapist

moinakdutta | Student

I think it will be a gross injustice to consider Keats an escapist only on the basis of a single poem. Even if we take ode on a grecian urn only in consideration, it will soon be realised by us after a careful study of the ode that the poet is trying to objectify his primary idea regarding the difference between Nature and Work of Art, much like the greek philosophers who always thought that an Work of art cannot supersede Nature as it is a mere replication of nature. Work of art is always twice removed from the ideal and hence it has both its advantages and disadvantages. Time is captured/freezed in art while because of that very fact, there is neither any generation nor degeneration. In other words there is no palpable development in art whereas Nature seems to grow and change and engulf us all in its ever changing manifestations.