Critical Analysis of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” | Ode by John Keats

Critical Analysis of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” | Ode by John Keats

  • December 3, 2021
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Appraisal of beauty is the most important ingredient of John Keats’ poetry. All his life, he haunted beauty, praised it and put it in front of his readers. He tried to prove its superiority over other material things of life. “Ode on Grecian Urn” is remarkable example of it in which he does critical analysis of Grecian Urn” and talks about superiority of art. He keenly observes sculpture. It fascinates him. As a result he writes “Ode on Grecian Urn”.

Poet gazes on sculpture and feels pleasure. He imagines a story. It seems that an artist from ancient Greek carved the sculpture. Keats escapes from reality and starts journey of his imagination. He then makes comparison between art and life. It is another factor of Keats poetry to compare two opposite things. Keats is famous for it. Nevertheless, he minutely observes the sculpture, carved on Grecian urn”, and appreciates the diplomacy of artist. He considers that art is superior to life. Unlike life, art is not bound to miseries. It always has freshness in it. Realities of life are painful and only imitation can console the soul.

It has been proved in “Ode on Grecian Urn” that analysis of life makes one’s mind critical and tortures it whereas art bestows it peace. Beauty of art has been glorified and the sad realities of life have been degraded in this poem. Though the poet talks about miseries of life yet his mood is not sad nor has the poem been written in a gloomy atmosphere. As compared to “Ode to Nightingale”, this poem is only about beauty of art. It demonstrates one and only thing viz. beauty.

Critical Analysis of “Ode on Grecian Urn”

John Keats visits British Museum. He sees an antique piece of Grecian Urn there. Urn is the name of a vase, which is mostly used to put ashes of the deads. The poet does not talk about importance or beauty of the urn but the beauty of art in shape of sculpture which is carved on it. Hence, the poem is not on the urn but on sculpture.

Poet sees figure on the urn and feels its quietness. Though it is silent yet it tells a story. Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder; therefore, story of the sculpture depends on visitor and watcher. John Keats feels that sculpture is telling a story. In facts, it is Keats who with his imaginative powers creates a story and tells it to his readers. Pipers, lovers and trees confuses him yet he is sure that the sculpture is depicting a pastoral lifestyle.

Keats asserts that imagination is better than reality. He realizes superiority of imagination. It is unstressed. Life, on the opposite is harsh. Mostly, people become victim of circumstances. Their actions actually are reaction to the circumstances. Hence, they do not act but react. In imagination, one can do anything, whether he is capable or not. For instance, blind can see, deaf can hear and handicap can live normal life in imagination. It is, therefore, imagination is superior to reality.

Whole poem is imaginative. Poet hears music in his imagination though it is not being played in reality. He expresses his joyful moment in following line:-

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”.

“Ode on Grecian Urn”

Keats’ strong imagination helps him to create music and listen it. Those melodies can also be heard, which do not exist in reality, therefore, imagination is pleasurable because every wish comes true in it. On the other hand, reality is barren and boring and it compels a person to react on a situation. Rather than action, reaction is required in real life. Imagination is not bound to logic. It is also limitless. Furthermore, it enhances the capability of doing the undoing.

John Keats also asserts on the permanence of art. Until now, he has affirmed that art is superior but why is it superior?. In order to explain the superiority of art he refers lovers, painted on the Grecian urn. They are trying to kiss each other. The poet says that their love is permanent and unending. People may die, old generations will replace new generations, time will pass centuries but passion of love will never fade. Indeed, their love is permanent and everlasting. Similarly, the musician will permanently blow the pipe and music will be listened forever. Grecian urn will continue telling this story to every person, who will visit the museum even after death of the poet. Art of the urn was felt by the Grecians; it is being felt by the poet and it will be felt in future.

Likewise, beautiful girl on the urn will never grow old. If she is happy, she will remain happy forever. In this way art is permanent and everlasting as compared to life. However, John Keats clears that the sculpture is mum. It is steady. It cannot move nor is it changeable, whereas life is flexible. Change is the law of nature. It is the hotchpotch of pleasures and pains. Sometimes it gives us joys and sometimes sorrows.

The poet then enhances his story when he sees people, who are going for a sacred purpose. Keats creates a town for them in his imagination. He fancies that perhaps the town, in which people are living, is empty now. He creates a fancy tale from this imagination and feels that people are fixed on the urn and no one will return to the streets or town. No one, will tell people of the town about the folks, who are on the urn. These lines are evident that John Keats is bestowed with God gifted quality of imagination. Furthermore, his love for Greeks can also be witnessed here.

Last stanza of the poem is about the beauty of art. The poet emphasizes on its importance and advises people to take shelter under it. Art is beautiful in his eyes. Its beauty lies in its eternity. People may fade and die but art will remain the same. It will forever comfort humanity. He ends the poem with an explanation of importance of beauty in life.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, --that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”

Suffice is to say that “Ode on Grecian Urn” is best piece of literature. It emphasizes on the importance of beauty and art. Sculpture, carved on the Grecian urn influenced the poet to write this ode. No one can sum up this poem better than Downer, who minutely observed the philosophical idea in the poem and wrote:

“This verse, the last two lines of which contain its real interest, possesses two philosophical ideas – (1) The incomprehensibility of the Infinite in Art and Nature and (2) The Ethics of Beauty.”

Downer on critical analysis of “Ode on Grecian Urn”

Related Questions:

  • Write critical analysis of “Ode on Grecian Urn”.
  • Keats makes comparison between “imagination and reality” and “art and life”. Explain with reference to critical analysis of “Ode on Grecian Urn”.
  • Critical Analysis of “Ode on Grecian Urn” reveals Keats’ love for art. Elaborate.


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