“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;” explain

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: (Lines 11-14)

This passage, taken from John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn, refers to the superiority of art to the reality of life. The poet is deeply impressed by the sculptural painting on the marble vase of Greece. The scenes, engraved on the surface of the urn, have no reality, yet remain much more enduring and impressive.

The marble vase contains a scene of merry-making. Some musicians are found to play on their instruments. Of course, their music will never be heard, but remains ever simply suggestive. This unheard music of the urn, however, is considered by the poet much more effective than the heard music of the real world. The music which is heard, is, no doubt, sweet, but that which is not heard, but only suggested, has a greater appeal. The latter has no reality and no actual test. It lives in its silence and suggestiveness. It is beyond any comparison and subjected to no decay or degeneration. Naturally, this music has a greater appeal than the heard music of the human world. Of course, this may not please those, who care only for sensual pleasure. But those who have a finer aesthetic feeling will best enjoy this music.

The passage brings out Keats’s high conception of art as an element of imperishable beauty. The comparison, implied between art and life, is remarkably impressive and penetrative. Keats’s aesthetic creed sharply comes out here.

Also read: Keats’ concept of beauty as expressed in his odes

Also read: Keats idea about ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’