Ode on a Grecian urn.It is said that the poem Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats is a fine example of romanticism.Keats was a poet of the Wordsworth genre of poetry.What exactly does the poet wish...

Ode on a Grecian urn.

It is said that the poem Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats is a fine example of romanticism.Keats was a poet of the Wordsworth genre of poetry.What exactly does the poet wish to portray?Does the poem have a parallel theme apart from the description of eternal art?What prompted Keats to compose this poem?Are there any elements which invite sheer criticism?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A lovely and classic statement of Romantic philosophy, this poem. The last lines are often quoted:

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

Since Romanticism is rooted in the deepest appreciation and highest exaltation of beauty as an ideal, these lines can be interpreted literally. However, they can also be interpreted as a paradox. Clearly, there is much we need to know, but perhaps everything we need to know, ultimately, is some form of truth, and the purity of that is beautiful.

Keats' lines remind me of "The Bear," a Faulkner short story. In the conclusion of the story, the father quotes them to his son who has just experienced a moment of truth that has defined his character and will determine how he lives his life. The boy had lived through a moment of intense danger, but it also had been a moment of compelling beauty that revealed truth on many levels.

One of the most compelling, and haunting, elements of the poem is the idea of beauty and beautiful moments being eternal, protected from the ravages of time. Who among us has not wished at some time that a particular moment could last forever? Since that can never be, we try to preserve the moment in memory, at least. And now I'm reminded of Fitzgerald's story, "Winter Dreams" when Dexter meets Judy on the lake and experiences what, for him, seems a moment of perfect romantic perfection, the memory of which he carries for the rest of his life.

Keats' poem is full of both beauty and eternal truth, as eternal as the human spirit.


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous post is really quite elegant and eloquent in its articulation.  If I could suggest one more element, it would be that Keats' echoes Wordsworth's sentiment of "seeing into the life of things."  One of the most fascinating components of Romanticism is the idea that the narrative of existence can be seen in anything and anyone.  Keats' entire ode is based on a vase.  I think that it speaks to his talent to be able to take an non-living object and evoke the life out of it in being able to "see into its life."  This reflexive exercise is quite powerful as human beings seek to see the life in both things and one another.  I think that it is one of the most powerful and driving forces behind both Keats' work and Romanticism, in general.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like his "Ode to a Nightingale," John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" meditates upon the transience of time.  It also contemplates the truth that only art can have perfection.  However, imperfection frees man to create and recreate art and to recognize that one form dies with each individual death as another is born with each new life--a common theme of Romantic poetry.

Read the study guide:
Ode on a Grecian Urn

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question