Truth versus Immortality in John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

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Truth versus Immortality in John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

In John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the speaker admires the immortality and excitement of life depicted on an urn, before realizing that the truth of life and mortality is preferable to static eternal existence. The speaker suggests that the young figures depicted on the urn are frozen in time forever, and therefore will eternally be young, carefree, and beautiful. It’s suggested that such immortality is inferior to mortal existence, however, since such carefree existence lacks the “truth” of human passion and ephemeral living. Through skillful word choice, the changing tone of the speaker, and the use of paradox, Keats through the speaker conveys his feelings towards art and beauty versus aging and truth: beauty in art is unobtainable, and the reality of change is where true beauty exists. Keats’ careful diction in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” works to effectively and powerfully convey the changing feelings of the speaker. The first three stanzas of the poem, when the speaker is addressing life depicted on the urn and contemplating immortality, are full of joyful imagery and positive language towards the static world of the urn. The urn is “unravished” (1), “leaf-fringed” (5), and “flowery” (4), with the figures on it “fair” (20) and possibly even “gods” (9). Clearly the speaker admires the purity of the imaginary world of the urn, and finds the youth on the urn to be both jubilant and beautiful. The use of nature imagery, with additional descriptions of the art like “happy, happy boughs!” (21) and trees that will “nor ever[...] be bare” (16), really reinforces the speaker’s initial positive attitude to the idealized world. Nature is beautiful, and existence depicted on the urn feels like it is full of budding life, due to the imagery and choice of language. The speaker’s word choices change, however, midway through the third stanza, and help to convey his changing opinion of the urn’s fantasy

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