Last Updated on February 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198
Context: This poem, one of Keats’s great odes, was inspired, there is some reason to believe, by an urn in the garden of Holland House. The theme is one familiar in the poetry of Keats: the contrast between the eternal beauty of art and the transitory beauty of the natural world. The trees carved on the urn will never lose their leaves; the lovers thereon depicted will never fulfill their love; yet they are to be envied because they will always remain young and beautiful. When “old age shall this generation waste” the urn will still retain its beauty for other generations to enjoy. The punctuation of the famous quotation is important, since the question arises of how much of the two concluding lines is the urn’s message. Editors now assume that the five words—the Greek identification of Truth and Beauty—are the message that the urn has to give. The poem ends:
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.