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

Ode on a Grecian Urn

by John Keats

Start Free Trial

Who utters the last lines in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

Quick answer:

In the last lines of "Ode on a Grecian Urn," the exact identity of the speaker is ambiguous. Depending on one's interpretation, the poem's final lines are uttered either by the speaker or the urn itself.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," it can be difficult to understand who is actually speaking and who is being addressed. The speaker could be the poet or the urn itself; the audience could be the urn, or the reader, or even the figures on the urn. The use of quotation marks at the poem's end complicates things even further. In the manuscript copy of the poem, there are no quotation marks at all; the final lines seem to be spoken by the same voice as the rest of the poem. In the printed version, quotation marks are used, suggesting that a voice other than the predominant one of the poem is speaking.

On the face of it, it would seem that the "thou" is the urn, which says the last two lines to "man," or mankind in general. The presence of quotation marks raises the possibility that we are meant to understand the last two lines ironically: they emphasize that this is what the urn says, so it is up to the reader to decide if this is to be taken at face value. On the other hand, if there are no quotation marks, then the last two lines are not a representation of the urn's speech, but a paraphrase of the sorts of things one might gather the urn has to say about art and beauty. In this case, the lines are clearly the speaker's; they may be what the poet thinks about beauty and truth.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial