Keats “Ode On A Grecian Urn”: Analytical View

To Keats, the Urn stands in a special sacred relation to a special kind of existence and keeps this relation immaculate and intact. The Urn is a concrete symbol of some vast reality which can be reached only through a knowledge of individual objects which share and reflect its character.

W. J. Neatby - Keats - Isabella

W. J. Neatby – Keats – Isabella (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are, Keats says, beyond the reach of fate, somethings which deserve a religious respect and devotion and belong to the essential elements of the world. These things are “silent as a consecrated urn.” They do not speak directly to us, but, like an urn, have a message which we feel to be holy. There are times marked in the natural order of the universe when these powers keep state, and it is then that we must get into touch with them and see what they have to reveal.

His ideal world was not a scheme of abstractions but of a source of living powers beyond the senses, and therefore silent, but more real than the most entrancing gifts of the senses through the devotion which it commands and the assurance with which he believes that it endures forever. Great art can’t but suggest something beyond its immediate or even its remoter meanings, an indefinable “other”, which is the most important thing it has to give. In our apprehension and enjoyment of this, we almost forget the details of an actual work of art and pass beyond them into a state which may be called silence because it speaks not to the ear but to the spirit. If we feel this in reading poetry, we can imagine how much more keenly Keats felt it in writing. In his inspired moments of composition, he sought to give expression in audible and musical words to that other indefinite and yet more powerful music which makes what it is.

Keats notion of silence is combined with his notion of time which indeed receives fuller attention, as if it were even more important, and so perhaps it is. The paradox of all art is that it gives permanence to fleeting moments and fixes them in an unchanging form. Thus, with this idea Keats is in part concerned and his ideal Urn embodies it. Preserved and sanctified by time, it keeps its original freshness and appeal nor is its permanence cold and inhuman. The work of art has its own life which is more vivid than the actual life on which Keats touches in the third stanza. The paradox of the Urn, as of all true works of art, is that it transcends time by making a single moment last forever and so become timeless  but not due to the material in which the artist works. The timelessness of his achievement is a true reflection of something known to artists when they work at the highest pitch of inspiration. In the act of creation, when all faculties are harmoniously at work together, time does not so much stand still as vanish. The artist is not conscious of it because he is caught in an activity so absorbing that it is complete in itself, with no sense of before and after.

English: John Keats by Joseph Severn 1819. Oil...

English: John Keats by Joseph Severn 1819. Oil on ivory miniature, 105×79 mm Deutsch: John Keats, gemalt von Joseph Severn, 1819 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keats expresses his willingness to leave his own special approach to experience through the imagination for something like philosophy and his refusal is based on the belief that the mystery of things can’t be mastered by an act of will but forces us “out of thought,” that is, from ordinary ways of thinking into the approach of the imagination. By thought he means the discursive, puzzled, analytical activity of the intellect. Keats was concerned with the relations of truth and beauty, and how he developed his own theory about them. This theory maybe expressed in something like the following form: Truth is another name for ultimate reality, and is discovered not by the reasoning mind but by the imagination. The imagination has a special insight into the true nature of things, and Keats accepts its discoveries because they agree with his senses, resolve disagreeable discords, and overwhelm him by their intensity. He is convinced that anything so discovered is true in a sense that the conclusions of philosophy are not. Keats calls this reality “beauty” because of its over powering and all-absorbing effect on him. In fact, he substitutes the discovery of beauty through the image (the discovery of facts through reason), and asserts that it is a more satisfactory and more certain way of piercing to the heart of things, since inspired insight sees more than abstract ratiocination ever can. Keats concern is with the imagination in a special sense, and he is not far from Coleridge in his view of it. For him it does much more than imagine in the ordinary sense; it is an insight so fine that it sees what is concealed from most men and understands things in their full range and significance and characteristic of the rational of poetry is that through the imagination it finds something so compelling in its intensity that it is at once both beautiful and real.

It is a theory of art, a doctrine intended to explain his own creative experience. He was increasingly conscious that art is not everything, and in his last two years he became more uneasy about the detachment from life which his work imposed on him. The belief that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” is true for the artist while he is concerned with his art. It is no less true that, while he is at work, this is all that he knows for certain, and all that he needs to know for the proper pursuit of his special task. Unless he believes this, he is in danger of ruining his art. The “Ode on a Grecian Urn” tells what great art means to those who create it, while they create it, and, so long as this doctrine is not applied beyond its proper confines, it is not only clear but true.

Truth is discovered by the imagination which makes man aware of the nature of things. Beauty can’t be found in our world because it only exists in the world of truth. Imagination takes man to the world of truth which is the world of beauty. A worship of beauty was both the motivation and the message of Keats’ poetry. His first ambitious work “Endymion” begins with “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and his Ode ends with ” Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

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3 thoughts on “Keats “Ode On A Grecian Urn”: Analytical View

  1. Pingback: Beholdment | Lavender Turquois

  2. Pingback: November 2013 « Anne Skyvington

  3. Pingback: Fancy By John Keats | Renard Moreau Presents

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