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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So you’re going to teach “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” John Keats’s classic poem has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time sharing this poem with your class, these tips will ensure that the experience will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into the work of John Keats, one of the most important figures in the history of English-language literature. Studying “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is also an excellent way to explore the world of English Romanticism, an artistic movement that remains influential to this day. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1820
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9 and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 375
  • Author: John Keats
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Romantic Poetry, Ekphrastic Poetry
  • Literary Period: 19th-century Romanticism
  • Conflict: Person vs. Mortality, Person vs. History
  • Narration: Third-Person
  • Setting: The paintings on the surface of an ancient Greek amphora
  • Structure: Iambic Pentameter, English Ode
  • Tone: Contemplative, Revelatory, Wistful 

Texts that Go Well with "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

Book 18 of Homer’s Iliad contains a long passage which describes in great detail the shield of Achilles, which Hephaestus embosses with a vast, elaborate depiction of the cosmos. This passage is considered the first major example of ekphrasis—a literary description of a work of visual art—and thus represents an important precursor to Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” 

“Kubla Khan,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is another signature poem of the school of British romantic poets. Like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” it is concerned with such themes as the process of artistic creation and the pursuit of earthly paradise. 

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” by William Wordsworth, is, along with Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the most famous ode to emerge from British romanticism. Unlike Keats’s ode, “Intimations” follows a Pindaric form and is concerned with nature and childhood rather than art. 

“Ode to a Nightingale” is another of the five odes John Keats wrote in 1819. Much like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” it is steeped in Greek culture and mythology and derives much of its momentum from an ongoing confrontation with mortality. 

“Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is another classic of British romantic poetry. The subject matter of Shelley’s sonnet—the Egyptian King Ramses II—is, like much of Keats’s poetry, drawn from antiquity. Like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” it plays with unconventional rhyme schemes and contemplates the fleeting nature of human life. 

“When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be” is another poem by John Keats and one of his most personal lyrics. In this Elizabethan sonnet from 1818, Keats confronts his own relationship with death just three years before he passing away from tuberculosis.

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History of the Text