Essay on Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

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Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats


In the first stanza, the speaker, standing before an ancient Grecian

urn, addresses the urn, preoccupied with its depiction of pictures frozen in

time. It is the "still unravish'd bride of quietness," the "foster-child of silence

and slow time." He also describes the urn as a "historian," which can tell a

story. He wonders about the figures on the side of the urn, and asks what

legend they depict, and where they are from. He looks at a picture that

seems to depict a group of men pursuing a group of women, and wonders

what their story could be: "What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? /

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?"

In the second
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Each of "Grecian Urn"'s five stanzas is ten

lines long, metered in a relatively precise iambic pentameter, and divided

into a two part rhyme scheme, the last three lines of which are variable. The

first seven lines of each stanza follow an ABABCDE rhyme scheme, but the

second occurrences of the CDE sounds do not follow the same order. In

stanza one, lines seven through ten are rhymed DCE; in stanza two, CED;

in stanzas three and four, CDE; and in stanza five, DCE, just as in stanza

one. As in other odes (especially "Autumn" and "Melancholy"), the

two-part rhyme scheme (the first part made of AB rhymes, the second of

CDE rhymes) creates the sense of a two-part thematic structure as well.

The first four lines of each stanza roughly define the subject of the stanza,

and the last six roughly explicate or develop it. (As in other odes, this is

only a general rule, true of some stanzas more than others; stanzas such as

the fifth do not connect rhyme scheme and thematic structure closely at all.)


If the "Ode to a Nightingale" portrays Keats's speaker's engagement

with the fluid expressiveness of music, the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" portrays

his attempt to engage with the static immobility of sculpture. The Grecian

urn, passed down through countless centuries to
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