THEMES IN JOHN KEATS' "ODE ON A GRECIAN URN"
In his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats highlights the transitoriness of life and how its beauty fades away into nothingness with the passage of time. Keats brings to the fore the concept that worldly attractions can’t withstand the test of time, however, art can capture these desired attractions and preserve them for eternity, before they become undesired.
The Grecian urn, referred to as the ‘Sylvan historian’ and the ‘bride of quietness’ by Keats narrates volumes from the past despite being all silent and unmovable, through the figures engraved on it. The beauty captured on the urn is forever and will provide pleasure to all those who seek it, till eternity.
Everything ephemeral in life has been preserved on the urn along with its true meaning, feeling and essence. The melodists captured on the urn, playing sweet unheard melodies have been immortalized. Their passion, their feeling, the vigor and their expressions have all been preserved as good as original and will remain so forever and will continue to provide pleasure to the onlookers, even though their tunes cannot be heard. The unheard melodies are far more sweet and pleasurable than the worldly live ones, which no matter how long they are will have an end ultimately. Those playing them will eventually lose their enthusiasm and vigor as time would pass by. This is what makes Keats write the following in his poem:
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes play on…”
“…Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare…”
“…happy melodists, unwearied,
Forever piping songs, forever new…”
Other than the melodists and the tunes, the entire scene captured along with the romanticizing lovers is as fresh as original. The spring season engraved there is never ending and the trees are evergreen.
“Ah happy, happy boughs that cannot shed
Your buds, nor even bid the spring adieu;”
Similarly the lovers and their passion for each other have also been captured and preserved as they originally were. Their youth and the interesting of love in their hearts will always remain so. And although the lips of the lover advancing towards those of the beloved to kiss her, will never touch them, yet the beloved will always be as fair, excited and beautiful, and the cruel world will not be able to part them.
“Behold lover, never, never canst thou kiss…
yet…She cannot fade…”
“More happy love/ more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting and forever young…”
Whereas, on the contrary, earthly love, although is far above all other human passions, yet is marred by the cruelties and limitations of the world and leaves a ‘heart high sorrowful and cloy’d’ and a ‘burning forehead and a parching tongue’.
The scene of the rituals being performed, the people’s involvement and reverence the deserted village and hence the entire atmosphere captured on the urn will remain as fresh and new as ever.
This is how the impermanent and ephemeral beauty of life and the world is made permanent and forever new through art. The urn has withstood all tests of time ang age and continues to provide pleasure and satisfaction to those who wish to seek it ‘in midst of other woe.’