Written in 1819 and published in January 1920, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' was the third of the five 'great odes' of 1819, which are generally believed to have been written in the following order - Psyche, Nightingale, Grecian Urn, Melancholy, and Autumn. Of the five, Grecian Urn and Melancholy are merely dated '1819'. Critics have used vague references inKeats's letters as well as thematic progression to assign order.
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a romantic ode, a dignified but emotional and lyrical poem in which the author speaks to a person or thing absent or present. In this famous ode, Keats addresses the urn and the images on it. The romantic ode was at the pinnacle of its popularity in the 19th Century. It was the result of an author’s deepmeditation on the person or object.
The Ode consists of five verses that present a scene, describe and comment on what it shows, and offer a general truth that the scene teaches a person analyzing the scene. Each verse has ten lines written in a pattern of rhythm that assigns ten syllables to each line. The first syllable is unaccented, the second accented, the third unaccented, the fourth accented, andso on. For example, the accent pattern of the first two lines of the poem: Thou STILL – un RAV – ished BRIDE – of QUI – et NESS.
The main figures of speech in the poem are apostrophe and metaphor in the form of personification. An apostrophe is a figure of speech in which an author speaks to a person or thing absent or present. Apostrophe and metaphor/personification occur simultaneously in theopening lines of the poem when Keats addresses the urn as "Thou," "bride," "foster-child," and "historian" (apostrophe). In speaking to the urn this way, he implies that it is a human (metaphor/personification). Keats also addresses the trees as persons in verse 3 and continues to address the urn as a person in verse 5. Other notable figures of speech in the poem include the following are:assonance, alliteration, anaphora, paradox and etcetera.
Keats calls the urn an “unravish’d bride of quietness” because it has existed for centuries without undergoing any changes (it is “unravished”) as it sits quietly on a shelf or table. He also calls it a “foster-child of silence and time” because it has been adopted by silence and time, parents who have conferred on the urn eternalstillness. In addition, Keats refers to the urn as a “sylvan historian” because it reminds a bucolical scene from long ago. (“Sylvan” refers to anything pertaining to woods or forests.) This scene tells a story (“legend”) in pictures framed with leaves (“leaf-fring’d”)–a story that the urn tells more charmingly with its images than Keats does with his pen. Keats speculates that the scene is set eitherin Tempe or Arcady. Tempe is a valley in Thessaly, Greece–between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa–that is favored by Apollo, the god of poetry and music. Arcady is Arcadia, a picturesque region in the Peloponnesus (a peninsula making up the southern part of Greece) where inhabitants live in carefree simplicity. Keats wonders whether the images he sees represent humans or gods. And, he asks, who arethe reluctant (“loth”) maidens and what is the activity taking place?
Using paradox and oxymoron to open Verse 2, Keats praises the silent music coming from the pipes and timbrels as far more pleasing than the audible music of real life, for the music from the urn is for the spirit. Keats then notes that the young man playing the pipe beneath trees must always remind an etched figureon the urn. Keats also says the bold young lover (who may be the piper or another person) can never embrace the maiden next to him even though he is so close to her. However, Keats says, the young man should not grieve, for his lady love will remain beautiful forever, and their love will continue through all eternity.
Keats addresses the trees, calling them “happy, happy boughs”...