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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Which world does the speaker prefer, the urn's or his own?

Quick answer:

The speaker seems to prefer the world of the urn, where it is eternally spring, and the figures on the urn are forever young and happy, never to age or die. In his own world, by contrast, people suffer, age, and die.

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The speaker is drawn to the world depicted on the urn in which he sees a moment frozen for eternity. In it, the people are forever young and forever on the brink of love on a beautiful spring day that will never change. At the end of stanza 2, the speaker is so immersed in the scene on the urn that he says to the "bold lover," who is just about to kiss his beloved,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

To the speaker, to be caught forever at a moment of bliss that cannot change seems a "happy, happy" thing.

As he says in stanza 3, when his ecstasy over the urn hits a high point,

More happy love! more happy, happy love!

For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young.
The speaker wishes he could be like the figures on the urn, always at the "warm" height of romantic love, where passion is still to be "enjoy'd." He would like to be forever "panting" or filled with desire. He contrasts this eternal happiness to the reality of "breathing" human life, where love can leave "a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd."
In the final stanza, as the speaker begins to emerge from his intense identification with the urn and his desire to be one with its figures, he says, addressing the urn,
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity.
In other words, his sense of oneness with the urn was for a moment like tasting eternity or heaven itself. He again contrasts life on the urn with the way his generation will grow old and says that in the midst of "woe" or unhappiness, the urn will be "a friend to man," a solace and a reminder of the eternal, a work of art that never changes. This world of art, in which a moment of joy can be preserved forever, seems highly desirable to this speaker.

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