Summary of John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian

Ode on a Grecian Urn is a poem written by John Keats.


The poet sees a Grecian urn, and the human forms depicted thereon. He is filled with a sense of wonder and he speculates what might be the theme of the urn. The life-like attitude of the figures depicted strike him with astonishment – there are men who might be mistaken for gods; there are blushful maidens struggling to escape the importunities of lovers; there are pipers playing on with unwearied zest.

These naturally make the poet conscious of the superiority of Art over Nature. The unheard music, suggested by the figure of the piper, gives ample scope to the imagination and therefore is sweeter, for in life the sweetest music must come to an end. In the piece of sculpture the lover cannot get his beloved, but at the same time she cannot escape out of his sight as she would have done in real life. Thus his love will be as eternal as the beauty of his beloved.

From this thought Keats is led to the contemplation that the trees on the urn can never shed their leaves, nor can the musicians ever weary of their songs, nor can the love of the young people ever reach satiety. The joy of art is something eternal and is far more satisfying than the joys of real life which end in sad satiety.

Keats is then led to create out of the figures represented on the Urn a scene of classical Greece as though he was seeing it before his very eyes. It is a sacrificial scene that is depicted and he contemplates the priests and the heifer and the altar arranged in a proper attitude. The sight of this makes him speculate what town it might be that had been made empty of its pious worshippers on this festive day.

Having thus reviewed the entire scene in its details as well as its implications, Keats concludes the poem with the reflection that the Um will remain when the present generation of men will be long dead and gone. The Urn will teach men this supreme lesson that Beauty is Truth and Truth is Beauty. To the poet it is a great discovery, and so he defiantly asserts that it is really all the knowledge that a man should know.

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