Ode on a Grecian Urn

by John Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
     Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
     A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
     Of deities or mortals, or of both,
          In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
     What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
          What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

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:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
     Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
          Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
18Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
     She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
          For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
      Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
      For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
      For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
           For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
      That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
           A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
      To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
      And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
      Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
           Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
      Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
           Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
      Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
      Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
      When old age shall this generation waste,
           Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
      "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
           Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."




Ode to a Grecian Urn


Keats, John

Year of Publication:


Age Appropriate:



Art: Grecian


English Ode








10 foot iambic lines per stanza; the last six lines vary a trifle



Literary Period:


Things to Discuss:

Do you agree that art takes its truth from life and then returns it to life as beauty as is suggested in the poem? The poet seems to suggest that only the dead are immortal how are they immortalized? If the lesson objective is the use of poetic patters you may wish to review assonance then ask how the repetition of vowel sounds in lines help contribute to the reading. Ex. Already with thee! Tender is the night!. I cannot see what flowers are at my feet.

About the Poem:

This poem opens with an apostrophe. Most famous closing lines are "beauty is truth, truth beauty" that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." This one of six major odes written by Keats in 1819. It helps to introduce at least three or four of these odes within one thematic lesson that is Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets as the odes are a combination of elements from both sonnet types. Or if the objective is to study Keats technique then why not explore how the poet links music/nightingale; art/Grecian urn. Odes of equal merit are Ode on Melancholy, Ode to a Nightingale, and Ode on Indolence.

About the Poet:

Keats lived in the past; liberty, equality, the rights of man were no uppermost in his thoughts. He reveled in mythology both Latin and Greek. keats led a short, unhappy life. He contracted tuberculosis went to Italy to recover but died there at twenty-five.