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 is "Ode on a Grecian Urn" a Romantic poem?

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a Romantic poem because it stresses the beauty of nature, even in a man-made object, and equates that beauty with truth.

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A Grecian urn is a classical object, and it is easy to imagine such an object being the subject of contemplation for many poets. To pinpoint the Romantic qualities of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn ," it is worth considering how different a poem on the same subject...

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A Grecian urn is a classical object, and it is easy to imagine such an object being the subject of contemplation for many poets. To pinpoint the Romantic qualities of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," it is worth considering how different a poem on the same subject by Alexander Pope—an Augustan poet—for instance, might be. In the first place, Pope would not use a poem on a man-made object to celebrate nature, as Keats does. Additionally, Keats is not as great a nature-worshipper as Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, but he does continually stress the way in which the urn depicts natural scenes. It is "sylvan" and "flowery" and "leaf-fring'd."

Keats's ode is Romantic in the way it uses sensual imagery to suggest something beyond sensuality, something which (contrary to the Augustan spirit) cannot be described in rational terms. The "wild ecstasy" of the poem is Romantic in spirit, encouraging readers to let their sensibilities overwhelm them. The justification for this lies in Keats's famous final lines. Beauty will not only reveal the truth (something the Augustan would have disputed) but is the truth. This notion that you can discover the most profound and important wisdom simply by opening your heart to beauty is one of the central tenets of Romanticism.

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