Ode on a Grecian Urn Written in 1819 by John Keats
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The poem ode on a grecian urn was written in 1819 by John Keats. John Keats was an English romantic poet, commonly writing about the theme of death in numerous of his poems. Around this time, Keats himself was surrounded by death. The recent passing of his brother as well as his diagnosis with tuberculosis may have influenced the themes that are present in this poem, and directed the message and deeper meaning. These messages include, but are not limited to, the reflection of immortality, and the negative connotations that are associated with immortality. Coincidently, these messages are evident in chronological order within the poem, allowing for an easy understanding to be established of the change in thoughts that Keats had.
The first theme of immortality can be seen through the structure and the title of the poem. Odes are commonly used in order to lament and praise something, therefore the irony of praising something that contains the ashes of the dead brings across a sense of conflict, as well as highlighting his desire to remain immortalised in an urn much like the one he is addressing. The first line of “thou still unravished bride of quietness” is particularly impactful as by using thou, he is directly addressing and thus personifying the urn. This creates a link and a connection between the reader and the poem, as well as Keats and the urn. Furthermore, the juxtaposition between bride and quietness is interesting as bride would usually act as a symbol for new life and vitality, whilst quietness carries across connotations of death. This represents the internal conflict and the contrast between permanence and impermanence. Additionally, the sibilance of “silence and slow time, sylvan historian” allows the reader to take their time over the words, and this could represent how time is passing slowly and thus we stay longer alive. Additionally the word legend which carries across connotations of the supernatural and longetivity is offset by haunts, which carries across connotations of death. This reflection of immortality through the oxymorons shows a Volta which can be further enforced by the series of anaphoric rhetorical questions that follow after it. These allow the reader to contribute their own ideas to the poem as well as letting the poem become open to interpretation. Additionally, in the rhetorical questions, the use of mad pursuit and wild ecstasy bring across connotations of love and the pursuit of love, and perhaps lust. This may be used in order to reflect Keats own difficulties in the romantic field with fanny brawne.
The first theme sets up the next theme; the negative connotations associated with permanence and immortality. This is done through the quote “heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard of are sweeter”. The use of a chiasma and paradoxical language shows the change in thoughts and thus a Volta. When reflecting on immortality and what will come with it, he begins to understand that perhaps it isn’t all that he thinks. The paradoxical