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“Ode on a Grecian urn” is a beautiful ode written by John Keats in 19th Century. There are five stanzas in total; every stanza has represented each scenes of the urn. In this poem, John Keats brought readers into a beautiful world through his image of a Grecian urn, which to him is a beautiful piece of art. He used his imagination to explain what the reality of art is. There are four different aspects of John Keats’ aesthetics (beauty) from “Ode on a Grecian urn”- music, imagination, melancholy and philosophy, all these aesthetics reflect his attitude of life.
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The Aesthetics of music
We enjoy listening to beautiful music. In this poem, there is another kind of music that the poet wants to share with us – “unheard” melody. The image of young musician carved on the urn has been described vividly. Seems like we can almost hear the music he plays within the words.
“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:” (695)
John Keats narrated two kinds of music aesthetic standards “HEARD” and “UNHEARD”. However, “those unheard are sweeter”. The poet used words “sweeter” and “Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone” to let us know “Silent music” is charm. It is the rhythm that you can feel inside your soul. In this poem, we “heard” music by looking at some visual image (the young musician), thereby fired up our imagination.
The Aesthetics of imagination
John Keats has loved literature seen he was a child. He also got inspired by many classic literatures. However, he known that these are not enough to talk about “beauty” from all these literatures but by his imagination and illusion. He used classic art work as a topic to create “Ode on a Grecian urn”. On the public eye, it is only a normal antique but in Keats’ eye, filled with odd unreal color, it turns to be a beautiful picture – people filled with great joy, rapturous love story under the tree,
Holiness sacrifices in the countryside and the beautiful sound of a flute. Obviously, these beauties are not comes from the urn itself but endow with the poet’s imagination. He expressed his feeling of an ideal life thought the image of a Greek urn that he hankered for. This desire brings him to pursue the real beautiful life.
“Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever 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; ” (695)
Trees are always green, fresh air, people dance with the music, everyone enjoy their time, young boy and girl fall in love, townsfolk follow the priest go out of town to the sanctuary. Here is the heaven that the poet dreams for. At this time, the pieces on the Greek urn is no longer standstill but lifelike. Whereas, he doesn’t not intoxicated with the spirit of the dreamland, and push his imagination to a higher stage, which is “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”(696) this sentence catch people’s eye and has full of arguments. It deepens people’s cognition of beauty.
The Aesthetics of Melancholy
In “Ode on a Grecian urn”, there are some melancholy color that deepens the theme and could not be neglected.
“Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!” (695)
There are “eternities” in the poem – love, happy, spring and sounds of pipe. John Keats freezes all the scenes and let the happiness never comes to an end. We all know that it is impossible to own a moment lasts forever. “Eternity” is what he wishes to have. By contrast to the real world, the poet connects art with human being fate. Behind all the “happiness”, “Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies” (XXX), there’s a heifer facing the pain of death. All the townsfolk went out of town to see the sanctuary, the all town suddenly quiet with nobody there.
“And, little town, thy streets for evermore”
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.” (695)
“Not a soul to tell” shows how time flies by, and a world of changes has occurred. Things change easily like the heifer, its short life ended in a short period of time. The poet seems to remind us that we are all similar to the townsfolk. We are just a passerby in the history and in the world. Only the beauty of art is eternity. Finally, the life keenlied feel was signified and transformated through art in a certain extent.
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The Aesthetics of Philosophy
“Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,”(696) is actually a viewpoint from a Classical Greek philosopher – Plato, he thinks that beauty is the highest stage in the republic. Real poet could discern the truth of beauty. John Keats put a new concept on it in the poem. Art and the real world are indivisible. Only truth is beauty. The “truth” means all the experiences in real world use art form to express and turn it to beauty. “truth” and “beauty” is exist simultaneously. All the aesthetics in the poem shows John Keats attitude of life also his power and sense of beauty.
John Schilb. John Clifford “Making Arguments about Literature: A Compact Guide and Anthology” P 695-696 “Ode on a Grecian urn” by John Keats
Ferrari, G.R.F. Plato – The Republic. Eleventh. United Kingdom: University Press, Cambridge, 2008. Print.
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