Physical Value in Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn Essay

1381 Words 6 Pages
Physical Value in Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn

The poetry of John Keats contains many references to physical things, from nightingales to gold and silver-garnished things, and a casual reader might be tempted to accept these at face value, as simple physical objects meant to evoke a response either sensual or emotional; however, this is not the case. Keats, in the poem Ode Upon a Grecian Urn, turns the traditional understanding of physical objects on its head, and uses them not solid tangible articles, but instead as metaphors for and connections to abstract concepts, such as truth and eternity.
In the poem, Keats dismisses the value of physical things as only corporeal for what he feels is more substantial and
…show more content…
What is the metaphysical "truth" then, that Keats seeks to connect to the physical beauty of the Grecian urn? Webster defines truth as "Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been; or shall be."; another description, more Romantic and fitting to Keats, is Bertrand Russell's:
"Truth is a shining goddess, always veiled, always distant, never wholly approachable, but worthy of all the devotion of which the human spirit is capable.". Keats is essentially saying through the urn that truth, the conforming to facts, is the exact same thing as physical beauty; beauty is a factual attribute of an object.

An analysis of the text, searching for connections between the abstract and the tangible, would do much to elucidate this matter. The poem is broken into five parts.

The first section opens with a description of the urn as a bride, a foster-child, a historian. All these personifications are subtle linkings of the abstract actions related to those roles which Keats assigns to the concrete object, the urn. He then further reinforces this subtle link with a series of observations on what is painted on the urn. "What men or gods are these? What maidens loath? / What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?" (lines 8-10) is another demonstration; he makes
the
Open Document