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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Why does the speaker advise the youth not to grieve?

The speaker advises the youth not to grieve, even though he cannot ever kiss his beloved, because he is forever young, forever in love, and forever on the verge of bliss.

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In this ode, the speaker addresses a "bold lover" he sees painted on an urn. This "bold" youth is forever frozen on the verge of kissing his beloved. He can "never, never" kiss her, because he is a painted figure, frozen in one spot.

Nevertheless, the speaker advises the youth...

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In this ode, the speaker addresses a "bold lover" he sees painted on an urn. This "bold" youth is forever frozen on the verge of kissing his beloved. He can "never, never" kiss her, because he is a painted figure, frozen in one spot.

Nevertheless, the speaker advises the youth not to grieve over the unfilled kiss, because the youth is frozen at an absolutely magical moment. He is forever at the point of anticipating the "bliss" of kissing his beloved, who "cannot fade" in his estimation, because she will always be young, and he will always be ardently in love with her. As the speaker emphasizes,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

It is admittedly odd for a living human to be talking to a figure on an urn, but the conversation shows how imaginatively identified the speaker is with the scene in front of him. It is as if he is a Mary Poppins character, stepping into a chalk picture on a sidewalk: he has imaginatively entered the scene as if he is there and can wander up and have a conversation with these ancient Greek figures.

The speaker seems to be expressing how wonderful it would be to be forever caught in one of life's happiest moments, always young, always healthy, always in love, always right on the edge of bliss. Even if you never get to the kiss, wouldn't that be better than what living humans have to face: Fleeting moments of happiness yoked with suffering, aging, and death? The speaker is telling the youth that, though he cannot experience true bliss, perhaps this is a preferred existence to human life, in which bliss is often temporary and accompanied by great tragedy.

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