Ode on a Grecian Urn Introduction
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...

(The entire section is 490 words.)