artistic illustration of a Grecian urn set against a backdrop of hills and columns

Ode on a Grecian Urn

by John Keats
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How does "Ode on a Grecian Urn" reflect the immortality of art?

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" reflects the immortality of art by emphasizing the contrast between human life, where change is never ending, and the unchanging scenes on an ancient urn.

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"Ode on a Grecian Urn " reflects the immortality of art by focusing on the unchanging nature of a scene depicted on an ancient Greek urn. Unlike human beings, who will pass through time, the figures depicted on the urn will always be frozen at a joyful moment when...

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"Ode on a Grecian Urn" reflects the immortality of art by focusing on the unchanging nature of a scene depicted on an ancient Greek urn. Unlike human beings, who will pass through time, the figures depicted on the urn will always be frozen at a joyful moment when they are forever young, full of love, and enjoying a blissful time at a spring festival. Even the trees will remain forever in first bloom: they will never be part of the cycle of mortal life in which they shed their leaves, die, and are reborn again. Likewise, the town that has emptied so that its people can enjoy a religious festival will never be repopulated.

The poem is comparing art to life, and during a moment of ecstatic identification, the speaker is longing to become part of the scene on the urn. He expresses the deep human desire to capture a moment of bliss and never let it go—but he understands that only art can do this. He is seeing and envying the way a work of art never changes and is thus immortal.

This desire for freezing or capturing the best moments in life so they can never end is a recurrent theme in art. It is expressed in Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium," where as an old man the speaker wishes to be turned into a beautiful golden bird, an artifact that will never die. Jim Croce captures the same idea about immortality in his 1970s song "Time in a Bottle":

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save everyday 'til eternity passes away
Just to spend it with you

And if I could make days last forever
And if words could make wishes come true
We'd walk through the fields of ripening corn
And time would flow through us and you
And I'd save everyday like a treasure and then
Again and again I'd spend them with you.
By writing a song about wanting to freeze time, Croce is doing what the urn does—immortalizing a moment. Interestingly, like Keats, Croce died young, at age thirty, in a plane crash. Keats died at age twenty-five of tuberculosis. It is as if both had a premonition of death and turned to art to find immortality, leaving behind a part of themselves in their poetry to remain as beautiful and unchanged as the figures on the urn.
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