Of the romantic poets of the 19th century, Keats is singularly noted for his odes, and Ode on a Grecian Urn is one of his singularly reputed odes. This ode brings out Keats’s triumphant poetic genius and well celebrates his characteristics as an imaginative and sensuous poet. The ode is regular but complex. It comprises five stanzas of ten lines each.
Keats is specifically noted as the author of great odes. An ode is a subjective poem, in the form of an address. The poet addresses a particular element or abstract idea and gives out much of himself in his speech address. Keats’s Ode On a Grecian Urn is addressed to a marble urn of ancient Greece which he saw in the house of one of his friends, Lord Holland. It is a unique piece of his odes.
Keats is a poet of beauty. The essence of his poetic creed is struck in his devotion to beauty in a broad sense. Keats’s concept of beauty is nothing narrow, physically based, or vague. He speaks of absolute beauty-beauty with no limited earthly range. Keats’s philosophy of beauty is singularly straightforward yet profound-“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The implication here is that beauty is subjected to no law of decay, degeneration, or death, which the mortal world is fated to face.
In this ode, Keats pays a warm tribute to the Greek sculptural work, as marked on the surface of a marble urn of ancient Greece. Here, too, the poet looks upon this art as a thing of beauty, and asserts that it will remain a friend ever to men amid the changes and chances of fortune.
Keats formulates a quite intricate concept of the oneness of truth and beauty in this poem. He declares here firmly that truth and beauty are one and thereby survive in the mortal world. The poet triumphantly concludes
Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all.
An ode, as specified already, is subjective, and as a romanticist, Keats is keenly subjective. The present ode bears out the subjective note of his poetry-his kinship with beauty-his melancholy appraisement of the transitoriness of human life.
The romantic poet in Keats is a master of imaginative art. The ode reveals Keats’s genius as a poet of imagination. Keats’s rich imagination is revealed in the very pictures of the musicians, playing on their instruments, the lover, running after his lady, the sacrificial ceremony and a desolate street.
Keats’s imagination is rather sensuous, and this is also seen in Ode on a Grecian Urn. The poem contains rich but sensuous pictures, bespeaking the poet’s triumphant imagination. Keats’s love for Greek life and legends, known as Hellenism, is perceived strongly in the poem. References to “Arcady” and “Tempe” show the poet’s intense interest in Greek life and tradition.
A melancholy mood is found to haunt the romantic poets. In Keat’s poetry, there is a sincere note of melancholy, which is distinctly heard in Ode to a Nightingale. Of course, in Ode on a Grecian Urn, this note of melancholy is not at all a powerful expression. Although the poet muses on the sad mutability of earthly life, he retains a sign of hope and concludes with an optimistic reading on the triumph of man’s’art in a mortal world.
Keats is considered one of the most musical English poets, and here he is placed only after Shakespeare and Spenser and along with Shelley and Tennyson. The artistic appeal of his poetry is distinctly discerned in this celebrated poem. In the use of original words and rich compounds, the ode stands almost unparalleled.