Ode to a Nightingale VS. Ode to a Grecian UrnI was asked to write an essay to discuss Keats’ lines “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ Are sweeter” from “Ode to a Grecian Urn”...

Ode to a Nightingale VS. Ode to a Grecian Urn

I was asked to write an essay to discuss Keats’ lines “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ Are sweeter” from “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in relation to the narrator’s experience in “Ode to a Nightingale.”. I don't know how to analyze these two poems and have no knowledge of these two poems after reading them again and again. Please assist me.

Expert Answers
coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

'Ode to a nightingale' by John Keats deals with the theme of escape more in the present - 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' on the other hand deals with escapism in the past. In the first poem, John Keats is weary of his day and imagines the cooling balm of a life following the nightingale into the deepest recesses of the spring green woodland. In the second poem, it is the past where the two young sweethearts are in a place of escape. Trapped in time while we move on, their leaves do not wither and their love does not die. We, however, and Keats, do move on and time keeps turning - the image of the young people lives forever but the real people they were based on did die, as we all do eventually. The Nightingale represents the comfort and solace for Keats in the present.

lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Think of these two poems as representing opposite ideas - life and death; life, because the nightingale is a living creature and death because the scene depicted on the Grecian urn no longer exists. Although life is not always like listening to the beautiful sounds of the nightingale's song and often is full of "the weariness, the fever, and the fret" brought on by fears of death, the urn's characters can no longer experience life's pain or joy because they are dead. With the urn, the poet sees that beauty can be eternal but life is not.

The links below to these two poems on eNotes can provide you with additional insights to complete your assignment.

fizzjahan | Student

Just a little correction, it is Ode On a Greacian Urn which many people mistake for Ode To A Grecian Urn.

In my opinion the "unheard melodies" from the grecian urn and the heard melody of nightingale serve the same purpose,ie, to take him away from this world of chaos and misery. The only difference being that Keats hears the unheard melody of pipers as an audience whereas he becomes one with the nightingale as he listens to its song, so much so that he chants

"I can not see what flowers are at my feet

Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs"

and at the end comes out of the trance saying;

"Was that a vision or a waking dream?

Fled is that music--Do i wake or sleep?"

whereas Ode on a Grecian Urn concludes with

Beauty is truth--truth beauty, that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.


On the other hand the unheard melodies takes the poet to the past where he contemplates on breed of marble men, mad persuit, struggle to escape, pipes and timbrels and wild ecstasy---to the things which are already dead; eternalised on the Urn whereas the voice of nightingale makes the narrator say

"Thou wast not born for death. Immortal bird"

The gist-both the songs are the viewless wings which take the poet to the artistic world of nature.