John Keats

(1795-1821)

 

(When you read the following poem, keep in mind that the writer is looking upon a scene painted on a Grecian urn.   That is why the people so described cannot change.  Keats is trying to get us to think about our longing for permanence in a world of change.  This urn that he writes about---with its sculptured reliefs of Dionysian  ecstasies, panting young lovers in flight and pursuit, and a pastoral piper under spring  foliage; existed only in Keats' imagination.  However, the urn is similar to ones that do exist.  Tempe is a beautiful valley in Greece which has come to represent supreme rural beauty.  The "dales of Arcady" are the valleys of Arcadia, a state in ancient Greece often used as a symbol of the pastoral ideal.)

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn

 

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,

   Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

   A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about they shape

   Of dieties or mortals, or of both,

      In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

   What men or gods are these?  What  maidens loth?     (loth = loath)

What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape?

     What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy?

 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those  unheard

   Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;

Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,

   Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not  leave

   Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

     Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal---yet, do not grieve;

      She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

   For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

 

Ah, happy, happy boughs! That cannot shed

   Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;

And, happy melodist, unwearied,

   For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! More happy, happy love!

   For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,

     For ever panting, and for ever young;

All  breathing human passion far above,

   That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,

     A burning forehead, and a parching tongue,

 

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?

   To what green altar, O mysterious priest,

Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,

   And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?

What little town by river or sea shore,

   Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

     Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

   Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

     Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

 

O Attic shape!  Fair attitude! With brede          (brede = interwoven pattern)

   Of marble men and maidens overwrought,

With forest branches and the trodden weed;

   Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought

As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

   When old age shall this generation waste,

     Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

   Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"  ---that is all

     Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

 

 

For Keats, "beauty is truth, truth beauty" because great art, such as the Grecian urn, crystallizes the truth; it conveys to those who experience it an insight into their own human possibilities in a direct and most effective way.   That is what great art accomplishes.  That is what a great movie does to the viewer.