How Does Keats Express His Aesthetic Vision in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’?

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How does Keats express his aesthetic vision in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’?

John Keats once said regarding Lord Byron that “he (Byron) describes what he sees, I describe what I imagine”. Keats is a typically Romantic poet in the way in which he uses the fluid boundaries of imagination within his poem to formulate his aesthetic vision which is projected in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. Pope notes that the etymology of ‘aesthetics’ derives from the Greek meaning ‘things perceptible to the sense’ and ‘sensory impressions’; within the poem Keats uses evocative techniques to project the ‘refined sense of pleasure’ which he receives from observing the ancient piece. For Keats, the piece of art represents a timeless beauty which he longs to achieve within his own work; he hopes that his own poetry will transcend his impending death and that he will be remembered well into the future for his masterpieces. The poem is significant in the way in which it portrays aesthetic beauty in ‘artistic media’ whilst raising several questions of what is meant by true beauty and whether it is possible for man to achieve the same perfection.

In the first stanza of the poem, Keats expresses his aesthetic vision of the urn by the way in which he considers the piece of art to be an “unravish’d bride of quietness”, thus forming immediate feminine connotations. As noted by Charles Patterson, the physical shape of the urn also lends itself to the female figure. He comments upon the fact that it is significant that Keats chooses to classify the urn as a particular gender as all life is created and unfolds through the female body; as such, the feminine outline of the urn is seen to provide the characters, which are depicted within the art work, with their vivid animation that Keats appears to observe. This is a typically Romantic method, whereby the poet’s clear imagination is used to give life to an inanimate object by seeing past the rigid, impenetrable surface and delving into the stories frozen...
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