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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What poetic techniques does "Ode on a Grecian Urn" employ?

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Many different poetic techniques are used in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," including apostrophe, personification, parallelism, antithesis, alliteration, metaphor, imagery, and symbolism.

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Keats uses the poetic device of apostrophe in this poem. Apostrophe occurs when an inanimate object is addressed as if it is alive. Keats addresses the urn in the first stanza, calling it:

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time
He then proceeds to ask it a series of questions, as if it can answer—an example of personification.
Keats also employs parallelism: in the final stanza he again returns to apostrophe, mirroring the first stanza in addressing the urn directly, stating:
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity
We get a sense of closure as the urn is depicting speaking back to the narrator, giving him a cryptic answer to his questions from stanza one about what it (the urn) means.

Keats also carefully structures the poem to reflect his rising emotion as he contemplates the urn and becomes more and more identified with it. The rise in emotion crescendos in the middle of the poem, in stanza three, as the speaker repeats the word "happy" over and over again, emphasizing his joy with the repeated use of exclamation points. After this high point, the speaker gradually comes down from his sense of euphoria.

Antithesis is another poetic device as the unchanging, eternal quality of the urn is continually contrasted to the fast changes of the natural world. One example is the speaker's delight that it will be forever spring on the urn:

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves
Keats uses personification as well, not only of the vase, but of the town that is emptied forever by the festival depicted on the vase and treated as if it can experience the human emotion of desolation or loneliness:
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return
All of these devices reinforce the speaker's intense, close identification with the urn and his desire to be one of the figures on it.
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There are numerous poetic techniques employed in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by the Romanticist poet John Keats. Among these are elements of the sonnet form and rhyme, imagery, symbolism, alliteration, and personification.

Within the theme of how Art has the power to convey the truth of human experience, Keats uses several poetic devices:

  • Personification

Addressing the urn as "bride of quietness" and "Sylvan historian," Keats gives human traits to the Grecian urn as he acknowledges that it contains a "flowery tale" that is sweeter than the poet's rhyme. Further, he comments, "Ah, happy, happy boughs!" 

  • Imagery

In stanza I the poet describes the painting on the urn with its deities and mortals, maidens, and men. There is a "leaf-fringed legend," "pipes and timbrels." The urn depicts religious celebration and sexual play among other aspects of life. However, these images are frozen in time and the lovers will never kiss as they are arrested in their movements because they are painted on the urn.

In stanzas IV and V there is visual imagery with such descriptions as the "green altar," the heifer's "silken flanks with garlands," "river or seashore," the "red-breast," "a garden croft" and "gathering swallows."

  • Alliteration

There is the repetition of the /th/ in line 18: "She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss."

In another example, the /s/ is repeated in this line: "Will silent be; and not a soul to tell." And the /h/ is repeated throughout this line: "More happy love! more happy, happy love!"

  • Symbolism

Employing the symbols of "trees" for Nature, "song" for Art, and "Bold Lover" for procreation, Keats explains the tension between what is on the urn and what is real. For the urn, "truth is beauty, beauty truth" (a literary device called chiasmus). This beauty lasts because it is frozen in time. However, for the poet who knows that beauty does not last, the truth is not restricted to the images on the urn. He realizes that the lovers will never consummate their love but will remain only in their moment.  

  • "Sonnet" form

Keats uses iambic pentameter, and his poem resembles a sonnet as it is laid out on the page; however, there are only ten lines in each stanza. Still, the stanzas have a pattern to them as the rhyme scheme is nearly consistent throughout: The first four lines are ABAB, and the next six are CDE and then some variation of CDE (CED).

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One poetic technique that is used in this poem from the outset is metaphor. The speaker compares the urn he is talking about to a series of different images that each point towards the centrality and importance of the urn as a symbol of eternal beauty. Note the comparisons that are established in the first couple of lines:

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
     Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express...

The urn is compared to a "still unravish'd bride of quietness," a "foster-child of silence and slow time" and a "Sylvian historian." These metaphors are very important in the way that they establish the sense of how this urn represents a transcendent beauty for Keats. For him, the urn is "unravish'd" in the sense that it stands for how true beauty and art does not diminish or fade over the years. True beauty dwells in a realm of "silence and slow time" that allows Keats to develop the contrast between the urn and the frail humans who are left to contemplate such beauty in their brief mortal spans. Therefore metaphor is one poetic technique that Keats uses with great effect in this poem.

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Some poetic techniques used in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" include the following.

Apostrophe: Apostrophe in poetry is the address of someone who is not present or of a personified object. In this poem, the speaker addresses the urn—the personified object—they are looking at, calling it "thou" or you, and directly speaking to a figure on the urn, calling it "bold lover" and giving it advice. This technique underscores the speaker's sense of identification with the urn: he treats it and the scene he sees on it as if they are alive and can be interacted with.

Imagery: Imagery is description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. The poem abounds in imagery as the speaker describes the scene of the urn. For example, we can see and hear in our imaginations the priest leading the young cow that is decorated with flowers and "lowing" out of town.

Alliteration: Keats employs alliteration in the poem, creating a pleasing sense of rhythm, which can be seen in the following line:

Of marble men and maidens overwrought.

Rhetorical questions: Keats also uses a series of rhetorical questions in the poem, questions that are not meant to be answered but which aid in offering a quick thumbnail description of the urn, such as in "What pipes and timbrels?" These questions also reveal the speaker's curious and wondering state of mind.

Finally, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a lyrical or emotional poem, and Keats highlights the deep emotions the speaker is feeling through his repetition of words like "happy" and the use of exclamation points.

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What type of figurative language is used in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

There are numerous examples of figurative language used in John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

First, Keats uses metaphor when he calls the urn an "unravish'd bride of quietness" and a "foster child of silence and slow time." The urn being an urn, it is not literally a virgin bride or a foster child, but Keats is trying to emphasize the purity of the artwork by using such comparisons. The images on the urn will never progress, and the people, animals, and plants rendered will never decay or fade. He also refers to the urn as a "historian," as the images on its sides capture life (or at least an idealized approximation of life) in a time and place long gone by.

Another example of figurative language used in this poem is personification. When looking at an image of a tree, Keats personifies the tree by describing its boughs as "happy":

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu.

The tree's leaves will never fall, since the images on the urn are frozen in time, therefore leaving the tree in a never-ending state of "happiness" and springtime.

Finally, Keats uses oxymoron when he describes the urn's images as "Cold Pastoral." This is because the pastoral as a genre is usually associated with the springtime. Pastorals idealize country life and are often associated with warmth. However, because the images on the urn are static and remote, there is a coldness to them as well. This oxymoron captures the complexity of the juxtaposition: the images are beautiful but without animation or life.

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What are the literary devices in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

Literary devices cover just about any technique a writer or poet uses to communicate a message to the reader. Before looking at the devices Keats uses, we can start with the message that he is trying to convey and see what devices he uses to reinforce his points. In this poem, Keats hopes to communicate how mesmerized or enchanted he is as he gazes at the picture on a Grecian urn. He wants us to see the picture on the urn just as he does. He also wants us to understand how excited he is at the emotions the picture evokes in him. As he looks at the young people merrily headed to a pagan festival, he thinks, wow, because they are works of art, they will never age! They will never get sick! They will always be as happy as they are at this moment, which is a very happy moment for them. How cool is that? As he thinks about this, he experiences an outburst of joy that he wants us to feel too. He also wants us to think, as he does, about whether it is better to be mortal or to be a work of art, and then to follow his thoughts to their ambiguous conclusion.

To help us see the picture on the urn, Keats uses imagery, such as the "soft pipes" the musicians play and "fair youth, beneath the trees." These are images because we can hear or see them in our imagination. He shows the "bold lover" at the point--forever--of kissing (but not quite kissing) his "fair" beloved. He tells us of the spring leaves forever on the trees. We see the heifer "with garlands drest" and the little town that is empty because everyone has gone out to the country for the festival. 

To help us feel how exciting the idea of never aging or dying is to him, he directly addresses the picture on the urn in ecstatic or passionate language. This form of direct address is called apostrophe. As the poem hits its emotional highpoint, Keats is so absorbed in the urn that he cries out to the branches of the trees, the piping musician, and the lovers, saying:

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
And, happy melodist, unwearied, 
         For ever piping songs for ever new; 
More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
We know he is feeling emotionally ecstatic because he uses exclamation points, as well as the literary device of repetition by saying "happy" five times, and begins the apostrophe with "ah," an emotional exclamation. In the final stanza, he uses apostrophe again, this time directly addressing the urn:"O Attic shape!"
Keats uses alliteration, repeating words that begin with "s" when he starts to come down from his emotional high and begins to question the limits of art: yes, the young people will be forever young and happy, but the town will be forever deserted, "streets...silent...and not a soul to tell," a sad image. And his use of negative imagery--"Cold pastoral!" in his final apostrophe calls into question the throbbing warmth he earlier described in the figures and scene itself. After all, he communicates, this is simply a scene painted on a piece of pottery. This final apostrophe thus becomes an antithesis or contrast to his earlier joy, and relates that he is weighing the benefits of being a piece of art. 
At the end of the poem, Keats uses personification, calling the urn a "friend" as if it were a human. Personification comes into play again, because Keats imagines the urn saying "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" to him. The epigram is also an example of ambiguity, a device meant to make us think, because what exactly does it mean that beauty is truth and truth beauty?
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What are the literary devices in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" is characterized by a highly lyrical tone with specific stanza forms and rhyme schemes.  There are five ten-line stanzas with a single rhyme scheme that combines the “quatrain of a Shakespearean sonnet with the sestet of a Petrarchan sonnet.” Check the link below for specifics on the rhyme scheme and other literary devices.  With the devices above you should be in great shape.

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What are the literary devices in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

Oh, this is a tough one, because there are so many used.
Let's start with the basics.
Keats uses personification in the first line.
He uses metaphors throughout.
He uses allusions.
He rhymes.
He uses archaic speech.
He uses consonance.

How's that for a start? ;-)

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What are some of the literary devices in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

Well, a good place to start is looking at the first stanza of this excellent poem and seeing the number of metaphors that are contained even in the first three lines. Let us remember that a metaphor is an example of figurative language that compares one thing with something else without the word "like" or "as." See if you can spot the three metaphors in the first three lines of this excellent poem:

Thou still unravished 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...

The speaker of this poem then begins his Ode by comparing the Grecian urn he is contemplating to an "unravished bride," a "foster child of silence and slow time," and a "Sylvan historian." Note the point of these metaphors: Keats is highlighting how the urn is undamaged by time by comparing it to a virgin bride; he is saying how it has long been protected by comparing it to a "foster child" of time and silence"; and lastly, he shows how it preserves history by calling it a "Sylvan historian." Now, see if you can find any other examples of literary devices in this poem. Good luck!

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What are some literary devices in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

This question has been answered previously.

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