Write a critical appreciation of the poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

Answer: “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is one of the most celebrated romantic poems by the great Romantic poet John Keats. The poem captures the poet’s subjective approach to an ancient Grecian urn and a traditional physical object like the urn has been used as metaphor to signify abstract ideas such as truth and eternity. In the poem, Keats explores the power and permanence of art as typified by the urn and establishes its connection with transient life. It also graphically furnishes the contrast between the ideal and the real.

The poem opens with a description of the urn as a bride, a foster-child, a historian. All these personifications subtly indicate the permanence of the urn over time. The poet describes the pastoral scenes engraved on the surface of the urn and establishes its supremacy by saying that “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter; . .” The world depicted on the urn’s surface is an ideal one. Its per-eminence is established through its immutability — “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave / Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare”. In the ideal world of the urn, it is eternal spring. ‘The weariness, the fever, and the fret’ can never touch the figures on the urn. They are forever happy as they are not subject to sufferings and pains, decay and death — “Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; / And, happy melodist, unwearied, / Forever piping songs for ever new.” In contrast, human beings on earth are subject to all types of maladies, troubles and woes. The contrast is striking —”Forever warm and still to be enjoyed, / Forever panting, and forever young; / All breathing human passion far above, / That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed, / A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.” The urn is immune from the negative aspects of time. It will continue to exist to teach human beings great lessons. In the concluding stanza, the poet completes the connection between the abstract and the concrete. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” sums up the relationships described throughout the poem.


The language in the poem is magnificent. The tone is quite interesting, as Keats seems truly awed and astonished by the urn he reflects over. His diction is rather elevated. The poem is written in pentameter, throughout, which leads to a very flowing rhythmic effect; the rhyme scheme is somewhat unusual, but Keats breaks the form with this five-part poem, so there is nothing unusual in his creation of an peculiar rhyme pattern, that of A-B-A-B-C-D-E – D – C – E. Poetic devices like alliteration such as “silence and slow”, “leaf-fringed legend”, .”Ah, happy, happy boughs” and “Of marble men and maidens overwrought” add to the beauty of the poem.

In “,Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats uses language and an ancient Grecian urn, to link abstract concepts to real, concrete things. Using iambic pentameter, and a unique rhyme scheme, and some devices of figurative language, Keats sets up a melodic, beautifully flowing poem which explores the relation between art and life, the ideal and the real.