Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

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Beauty Is Truth Truth Beauty

What do these lines mean? "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"-that is all Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know. Are they spoken by the narrator or the urn?

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e-martin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In brief: Art has the power to communicate the truth of human experience. 


The line in question is somewhat difficult to explicate, but when taken in context of the rest of the poem, Keats seems to be suggesting that the urn presents a set of messages. Taken together these messages can be identified as truth -- or the conclusive notions taken away from images of life that function as a comment on the nature of that life. 

One way to paraphrase the line "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" is to say that art conveys human knowledge and insights better than any other conveyance of meaning (better than science, perhaps, or better than music).

The urn, after all, is depicting human life in various stages and engaged in various tasks. Youth and joy and sacrifice and, thus, religion are all represented. Furthermore, these ideas are presented in such a way as to maintain their mystery and their enigmatic significance. None of the magic of these aspects of life is lost when represented on the urn.

A repeated suggestion in the poem is that by not speaking and by maintaining an allegiance with silence, the urn is capable of articulating both the substance of life and its more mysterious nature.

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme
Thus a connection is implied that the urn, an example of beauty/art, is uniquely capable of expressing the "flowery tale" of human life. 
As to who "speaks" the line about beauty, Keats seems to be offering a voice to the urn at this point. The poet "speaks" the line but does so in a way that he is standing in for the urn and uttering the message that he feels the urn has to offer man. 
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st...
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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The urn speaks these lines to mankind. They address an age old philosophical question: what is truth? The lines mean that rather than seeking the answer to this question in pure reason, we should seek it in beauty: that beauty is the truest thing humanity can experience.

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ypawielski1 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Opinions are divided whether this is Keats' or the urn's comment. Due to the punctuation of the lines, it is conceivable Keats is declaring that beauty is the only time that a subject's true inner nature truly revealed.

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kaybrennan874 | Student

In lines 49-50 of this poem, the speaker is implying that beauty, which is art, is all that people should consider and admire. In reality, there are things in life that are ugly, such as poverty and war. Individuals should only pay attention to the positives, rather than contemplating other things that involve negativity.


aura4 | Student

These lines are teachings from Urn.

"Beauty is truth,truth beauty"

This line says that truth and beauty are one and the same thing. Just like an infant is the most beautiful person as his heart knows no malefic and his tongue says no lie.

"that is all Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know"

These lines mean that knowing the importance of truth is the main thing peole nowadays need to understand.

mattphin | Student

   This poem is about 'living in the moment', the 'getting is better than the having'. Why should one be remembered lifeless (trans. urn)? That perception will always be someone elses perception; not your being.

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